Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

27 July 2015

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.

**Somalia

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the attack on Jazeera Hotel in Somalia.  The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms the attack perpetrated by Al-Shabaab yesterday on the Jazeera Hotel in Mogadishu.  The attack resulted in a number of casualties and injuries, including to staff of diplomatic missions of several countries whose missions are based in the hotel.  The Secretary-General conveys his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and to their Governments, and wishes the injured a swift recovery.

The Secretary-General affirms that this egregious attack will not deter the United Nations and international partners from our steadfast commitment to help the people and Government of Somalia realize a peaceful future for their country.  And that statement is now online.

**Yemen

And in a statement we issued yesterday evening, the Secretary-General welcomed the announcement by the Saudi-led Coalition of a unilateral five-day, renewable humanitarian pause in Yemen, which began overnight on Sunday.  He urged the Houthis, the General People’s Congress and all other parties to agree to and maintain the humanitarian pause for the sake of all the Yemeni people and urged all sides to act in good faith throughout the pause.  He appealed to all parties to exercise maximum restraint in cases of isolated violations and to avoid any escalation.

The Secretary-General urges all parties to facilitate the urgent delivery of humanitarian assistance to all parts of Yemen, as well as rapid, safe, and unhindered access for humanitarian actors to reach people in need of humanitarian assistance, including medical assistance.

And speaking today from Aden, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Johannes van der Klaauw, said that [what] he saw in that city was that the intensification of violence and conflict over the past four months have devastated the city and destroyed the lives and livelihoods of the majority of its people.  The Humanitarian Coordinator repeated his plea to all parties to put an end to the attacks on civilians and to end the destruction of critical infrastructure, vital for supplying essential goods and services to the civilian population.

Stephen O'Brien, the Emergency Relief Coordinator for the United Nations, said today that he hoped the humanitarian pause in Yemen would take hold, to give respite to civilians and to give humanitarian organizations time and space to provide more people with vital aid, in Aden and across Yemen.  And more information is available on OCHA’s [Office of the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs] website.

**Burundi

Meanwhile, the UN Electoral Observation Mission (MENUB) in Burundi has given its preliminary statement regarding the conduct of the presidential elections of July 21st in Burundi.

In its preliminary conclusions, the Mission says that while Election Day was relatively peaceful and conducted adequately, the overall environment was not conducive for an inclusive, free and credible election process.  It says that Burundians in most places went peacefully to the polls to cast their ballots.  It adds that polling activities in the observed polling sites largely followed procedure and that tabulation at the observed municipal and provincial locations was carried out expeditiously, albeit in a disorganized manner.

But the UN Observation Mission also notes the environment of profound mistrust between opposing political camps and that the parties did not reach agreement on a consensual electoral calendar.  It says that freedoms of expression, assembly and association, essential conditions for the effective exercise of the right vote, remain severely impaired.  Media freedom also remains severely restricted.  The preliminary statement is available online.

**South Sudan

And from South Sudan, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, wrapped up his four-day visit to the country over the weekend.  He is now back in New York.  He called on all parties to lay down their arms and commit to sustainable peace to halt the rapidly spiralling humanitarian crisis.  The humanitarian chief said he was deeply shocked by what he had seen during his visit and said that the senseless cycle of violence had to stop.

Some 4.6 million people are severely food insecure in South Sudan, with a quarter of a million children at risk from rapidly worsening nutrition.  Massive displacement continues — over 2 million people, half of whom are children, have fled their homes.  The South Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan for 2015 is currently only 42 per cent funded, leaving a gap of nearly $1 billion.

**Financing for Development

And as you would have seen a few minutes ago, the Secretary-General spoke at the adoption of the outcome of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development — and that took place, he spoke in the General Assembly Hall.  He said that by endorsing the outcome document, the General Assembly will take a major step on the path towards sustainable development and ending extreme poverty in all its forms.  Only by staying engaged we will ensure that the commitments we endorse today will lead to tangible progress on the ground, in all countries and for all people, he added, commending Member States for taking this critical step forward.

Before this meeting, he paid tribute to the late Permanent Representative of Djibouti, Ambassador Roble Olhaye, calling him a passionate champion of Africa and a great believer in the value of the continent’s partnership with the United Nations.  His full remarks are already online.

**Middle East

The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, said he was concerned by recent incidents and heightened tensions in and around the holy sites of the Old City of Jerusalem, and he called upon people on all sides to maintain calm.

Mr. Mladenov said that provocative actions and language carry the seed of violence and ultimately undermine the ability of worshippers of all faiths to have access to their respective holy sites.  Respect for the status quo is in the interest of all and is essential for stability.  The Special Coordinator calls upon all religious and political leaders to prevent extremist elements from abusing the sanctity of Holy Sites and the different religious sentiments of all people.

**Iraq

And the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, confirmed today that 184 frontline health services have been suspended because of the paralyzing funding shortfall for humanitarian activities in Iraq.  Over 80 per cent of general health programmes have been forced to shut down, affecting 1 million people.

Ms. Grande said, “At a time when the people of Iraq need us the most, we are letting them down.”  Partners estimate that 1 million sick people will now not receive help.  Over half a million children will not be immunized, spreading the risk of a measles outbreak and the resumption of polio.  These recent cut-backs come on top of cascading closures.  In May, food rations for over 1 million people were sharply reduced, and nearly 30 per cent of water, sanitation and hygiene programmes have closed due to lack of funding.  Only 15 per cent of the current humanitarian aid appeal — asking for $498 million — has been so far received.

**Cyprus

And turning to Cyprus, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, told reporters today that the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders continue to make progress towards their shared vision of a united, federal Cyprus.  Speaking on behalf of the leaders, Mr. Eide said that the positive and results-oriented climate of the talks continue to foster the progress required towards conclusion of a settlement as soon as possible.  He said that today’s meeting focused on issues of property and territory.  The leaders also underlined their commitment to maintaining the momentum of the process.  Their next meetings will be held on 1 [and] 14 September.

**Hepatitis

Ahead of World Hepatitis Day, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports that an estimated 6.3 million people, or every second person who injects drugs, is living with Hepatitis C.  UNODC says that efforts against Hepatitis C are closely linked to HIV, since both are blood-borne infections that can be transmitted through unsafe injecting practices.

The head of UNODC, Yury Fedotov, stressed that the dignity of people living with Hepatitis C and HIV must be safeguarded at all times.  UNODC, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) recommend the implementation of the nine HIV interventions that can also help prevent the spread of Hepatitis C.

And I think that is it from me, because I have nothing else to share with you at this very moment.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  I have a question, in fact, on the settlers’ provocations in Al Aqsa Mosque, but you answered it in the statement of Mr. Mladenov.  But my question: On Thursday the Israeli Knesset passed a new law, amending an old criminal law, saying that anyone who throws a stone at the Israeli occupation forces could be fined by 20 years in jail.  Does the Secretary have an opinion on this new law?

Spokesman:  Let me take a look at that.  I have not seen that report.  Yes, sir, Nizar?

Question:  Regarding Yemen, the attack on Marib yesterday, the power station, which was destroyed and over hundreds of people were killed and injured, it said that it was done by… from the sea by a cruise missile.  Others speak about an aerial attack.  In both cases, this is indiscriminate attack which has resulted in devastation and attack on civilian targets, and many people perished as a result of that.  Does the United Nations call for an investigation to this particular attack?

Spokesman:  I think what we are seeing, over the past many weeks, is a continued attack on the Yemeni people and civilian infrastructures, which needs to stop.  Obviously there was a unilateral humanitarian pause, which we welcomed, called by the Saudi‑led coalition.  It is important that all the parties involved respect that pause to allow the life‑saving humanitarian goods to be delivered, food, water, medicines, fuel, to move that around.  We've seen our ability to deliver some aid.  We saw WFP [World Food Programme] ships come in last week.  There have been some movements.  But clearly we know the pause will have taken hold when we are able to deliver humanitarian aid when the brave humanitarian workers in Yemen, the Yemeni humanitarian workers themselves, feel safe enough to get into a truck and drive that truck and deliver aid — that is when we will know the humanitarian pause has fully taken hold.

Question:  Update us on the endeavours by Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed; what has he been doing so far?

Spokesman:  He is currently in Riyadh.  He has been meeting, I know, with GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] representatives.  My understanding, he said he will soon go to Jeddah to meet with Saudi Government officials.  He has also been working the phones, been in touch with several key members of the Houthi leadership, to whom he spoke yesterday and over the weekend.  And he is continuing his efforts.  Majeed and then Matthew?

Question:  Thank you and welcome back, Stéphane.  And I have two questions about Turkey.  As you might have heard, Turkey started a campaign against ISIS and Syria and also in the past few days started targeting again PKK Kurdish targets in Northern Iraq, with military, with air strikes.  The first question is the Office of Turkish Prime Minister said there was a telephone conversation between Ban Ki‑moon and the Prime Minister — what did they talk about?  And the second question is what is the UN's position about the new — Turkey’s campaign in Syria against ISIS, as Turkish authorities say, and the renewed military campaign in northern Iraq?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General did speak over the weekend to the Prime Minister of Turkey.  They spoke on regional issues — that is what I can share with you.  On the other issues, we are obviously following the situation closely.  I hope to have a little bit more to share with you a bit later on today.  Microphone.  There we go.

Question:  Follow‑up on that.  Does the Secretary‑General think this is a positive development, that Turkey started engaging more in this ISIS, anti‑ISIS campaign?

Spokesman:  Obviously, the fight against extremist groups like ISIS, Da’esh and others requires military response.  It's important that that response be within the perimeters of international humanitarian law and that all is done to protect the lives of civilians.  And if I have more, I will share with you.  Mr. Lee?

[The Spokesman later added that the Secretary-General is concerned by the latest escalation of tension between Turkey and PKK elements.  He expresses the hope that there will be an immediate return to constructive dialogue in order to continue to find a peaceful solution to the challenge at hand.  The Secretary-General calls on all concerned to refrain from returning to a deadly conflict which has in the past brought so much suffering and grief to the people of Turkey.]

Question:  Sure.  Questions on Burundi, but I wanted to ask you something you may have anticipated coming.  It was a story which was on Friday on BuzzFeed, quite detailed, about an aid worker in the UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] camp in Bentiu, who alleges that she was raped by a UN vendor or contractor working for Life For Construction.  Basically the gist of the article is that the UN did absolutely nothing and OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] said they could not investigate and there are no recording or reports of sexual abuse or exploitation by vendors anywhere in the UN, DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] or other systems.  So I wanted to know, what is your response to it?  What does the UN owe people in its protection of civilian camps if they are raped there, and why was nothing done in this case?

Spokesman:  Well, I think this was clearly a horrendous act and I think people who work, aid workers, humanitarian workers, who work within UN camps are owed the best possible protection, that's clear.  In this particular case, the agency for which Ms. Nobert worked is greatly concerned for the well‑being and safety and security of all those working with it to deliver humanitarian assistance anywhere in the world and it took these particular allegations very seriously.  [The Spokesman later clarified that Ms. Nobert did not work directly for the UN. She was employed by an NGO doing contract work for a UN agency.]  When it became clear that the person accused of the attack on Ms. Nobert was, in fact, an employee of a company hired to undertake work for the agency and not an UN staff member, the agency concluded it was not a position to conduct an investigation into the alleged actions of that person itself.  All of the agencies’ private contractors are aware of the high standard of conduct the agency accepts from their staff and the agency gave Ms. Nobert the contact details of the employer of the person accused of attacking her, so that she could take her complaint directly to the company.  The agency also instructed the company to remove the individual immediately from any project involving the agency. 

However, given the highly sensitive nature of the allegations, the agency had to respect both the need for Ms. Nobert to raise her very serious complaint with those who can take actions and the rights of the accused person for due process.  It therefore did not share the specific nature of the complaint with the contractor, allowing Ms. Nobert to decide on how and when she wanted to do that.  The agency concerned believes that in this complex circumstance it did the best it could to support Ms. Nobert, to take her complaint forward.  I think it's clear that, in any of these cases, we also need to take a look how we responded and how we can do better in responding to horrendous cases like this one.

Question:  Thus seems to imply… obviously, Life for Construction, they have already terminated the individual, so there is no more relationship between them.  So is there… what is the UN saying is the accountability mechanism for this alleged rape?  And, two, you keep saying the agency.  Was the agency in charge of boring water holes in the Bentiu camp?  Was it UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund], was it IOM [International Organization for Migration]?  Which agency are you speaking of?

Spokesman:  As the article makes clear, Ms. Nobert specifically requested the agencies she had contacts with shall not be named and we will respect her wishes.

Question:  Who is in charge of boring the water holes?

Spokesman:  That is what I have to share with you, and if I have more I will share with you.  On Burundi?

Question:  On Burundi, I wanted to ask, there was a peacebuilding configuration meeting in Conference Room 5 and the representative of, I guess, the UN’s Human Rights Office said there is now, since 22 July, six AU [African Union] human rights monitors in the country, but the UN has no contact with them, because the Government hasn't somehow permitted it.  I wanted to know, one, is it the UN system they can't… I heard you from in podium say repeatedly how the UN works with the AU, likes the AU, the AU is going to solve it, why would it be the UN can't contact the human rights monitors of the AU?  And does Ban Ki‑moon acknowledge that there is some… his statement about broadly peaceful is inconsistent as perceived with the MENUB report just out this hour?

Spokesman:  No, I don't think it's inconsistent.  In fact, I think the MENUB report does talk about, you know, that the election day was relatively peaceful and conducted adequately.  However, as MENUB says, the overall environment was not conducive for a free and fair, credible election process.  So there, I don't agree with your compare and contrast exercise.  On the AU monitors, this is the first I've heard of it.  I can check.

Correspondent:  Okay. 

Spokesman:  Okay.  It's a gang of three today.  Nizar?

Question:  Again, on Yemen, reporters on the ground in Aden speak about foreign fighters coming in with Emirates and Saudis and fighting alongside Al‑Qaida and ISIS in the city.  Also there are a lot of large shipments coming and supporting these groups.  What does the United Nations think about empowering Al‑Qaida and ISIS in Yemen?

Spokesman:  I have no… we have no way of monitoring whether or not there are foreign fighters.  The one thing we do know for sure is that months of fighting, a collapse of basic services, a collapse of basic security for people creates an environment that is conducive for terror groups, extremist groups to take hold.  We've seen it in other parts of the region.  I think all of that underscores, as if we needed to underscore it again, the need for a… to start and follow humanitarian pause, which would hopefully lead to the cessation of fighting and the restart of a political process.

Question:  But there is ample evidence, I mean, videos coming in and showing ships…

Spokesman:  I'm not denying it.  I'm just telling you that I have — we have no way of being able to confirm it.  Our presence in Yemen is really focused on the humanitarian work.  Majeed?

Question:  Again, on Turkey and two more questions.  The first one is about the… it's about the air strikes in northern Iraq.  There are reports of civilian casualties there.  The UN is usually, at least, reports about civilian casualties.  Will the UN press Turkey to avoid civilian populated areas, especially the villages?

Spokesman:  I would refer you back to my answer to your question a few minutes ago, which is that any military action against extremist groups needs to be done within the parameters of international law, international humanitarian law, and great care needs to be taken to avoid any civilian casualties.  As to the specific attacks, I don't have anything more to share.

Question:  But they are also against PKK, not ISIS.

Spokesman:  I said I have nothing else to share on that.

Question:  The second question is: There are talks about creating ISIS-free zones in Syria and part of the reason Turkey is with the US doing this is they say it's because they want to have a safe zone for the refugees there.  Will the UN be involved in this process?

Spokesman:  You know, I would ask you to wait for another two days, until Wednesday.  On Wednesday, there will be a Security Council meeting in the presence of the Secretary‑General.  He will deliver some remarks on Syria and the way forward, which will wrap up the weeks of work being done by his Special Envoy, Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura, and his consultation process.  And Mr. De Mistura will also be present.  And I think there you will see a clearer picture of the way forward for the United Nations.  And I would add also, the Secretary‑General has told me he would be doing a press stakeout after that meeting on Wednesday morning.  Let's go to the back and break up the gang of three here.  I'll come back to you, Matthew.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I just came from the meeting on sovereign debt restructuring.  [inaudible] with problems because of a very irrational international architecture.  It's Greece now.  And does the UN have any comment about the fact that the austerity measures being imposed now in Europe, and, of course, in one form or another globally, are undercutting the post-2015 development goals, which are universal education and health care?  There seems to be a direct contradiction between the austerity measures that are being required and…

Spokesman:  Obviously, the Secretary‑General has been following the Greek discussions and the Greek financial crisis very closely.  And I think he very much hopes that Greece will be able to undertake the important and complex task of rebuilding its economy following the agreement.  However, I would also underline the importance of alleviating the hardships suffered by the millions of Greek people in recent years.  The Secretary‑General hopes that whatever measures are taken fully reflect the need to address social implications of the economic crisis and the deprivation that has resulted.  And I think the same could be said for a number of countries facing similar challenges.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  I wanted to know, there are these reports of fighting in Mozambique, driving out several hundreds of people into Malawi, and so I wonder, one, is the UN or UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] or especially DPA [Department of Political Affairs] aware of this?  Is there any…?

Spokesman:  Let me check.

Question:  I see also on the Secretary‑General's schedule today, 12:15, members of J Street and I'm wondering, who requested the meeting and what is the meeting about?

Spokesman:  It's obviously, I think one could infer that it is about the Middle East peace process.  They requested the meeting and we were very happy to meet with them.

Question:  We will get a readout of this meeting?

Spokesman:  We will see what we can do.  The meeting had been on the books prior to the agreement on Iran.  Let's do this again tomorrow, if you so wish.

For information media. Not an official record.