The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Small Island Developing States
Talking about the unique vulnerabilities of such States, including climate change, sustainable development and transnational organized crime, the Secretary-General stressed that issues facing these States are global challenges that require our collective responsibility. He added that addressing these issues will demand partnership, capacity and leadership, and called for more resources to work together for sustainable development and a life of dignity for all. And that statement is upstairs, or rather in my office.
Turning to Libya, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Bernardino León, today met with a delegation from the city of Azzawiya, including members of the House of Representatives, the municipality and revolutionaries, to consult on the next steps in the Libyan political dialogue.
The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) says that the representatives of Azzawiya stressed their full support for the Libyan political agreement, and expressed their readiness to assist in its implementation. During the meeting, the Special Representative also welcomed local ceasefire and reconciliation agreements in western Libya, including between Azzawiya and Zintan.
Also, Mr. León is expected to hold consultations today and tomorrow in Algiers with representatives of the General National Congress to discuss ways to reinforce and move forward the dialogue process — more information on the Mission’s website.
Just a humanitarian update from Yemen — our colleagues from the World Food Programme (WFP) have begun distributions of food to around 340,000 people in eight of the worst-affected areas of the southern Yemeni port city of Aden. WFP partners are distributing two-month food rations in districts of Aden that had not been reached since April because of conflict. The food includes wheat flour, pulses and cooking oil.
And the FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] today expressed optimism that a growing number of countries are ratifying an international agreement to combat illegal fishing. According to FAO, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is estimated to strip between $10 billion and $23 billion from the global economy. It may account for up to 26 million tons of seafood a year — more than 15 per cent of the [total] global output. Twelve countries have, so far, ratified the agreement, which was brokered by FAO in 2009. And it will come into force once we have 25 ratifications.
And a note on orang-utans — according to a new UN-backed report, more than 80 per cent of orang-utans’ remaining habitat in Borneo could be lost by the year 2080 without changes to current policies on land use. Borneo is the largest island in Asia and is jointly ruled by three nations: Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. The island’s deforestation rate has been among the highest in the world for more than two decades. More information is available on the website of the UN Environment Programme.
And our thanks today go to San Marino which became the 108th Member State to pay its regular budget dues in full. Grazie to our friends in San Marino!
And with that, Nizar, you win the first question.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Visiting Yemen, obviously, the aid which is promised by Saudi Arabia, Mr. [Stephen] O’Brien said that is still forthcoming, and there are some agreements to be signed about that. What…? Can you explain these agree…? What’s…?
Spokesman: Sure. It is obviously up to the donors when they decide to give aid to the UN. They can give it to central funds. They can give it to different agencies. My understanding is that the Saudi Arabia donations will go to different UN agencies. Memoranda of Understanding have to be negotiated and signed between the King Salman Foundation and each agency, and that’s where we’re at. So the discussions are ongoing. Obviously, I think all our humanitarian colleagues wish they had already been concluded and that we could have accessed the funds, but we understand the concerns, and the discussions are ongoing.
Question: But this is taking [inaudible] the whole appeal. They said we will finance all this appeal and then it took four months for them to come forward with the money. The Yemenis are taking pictures of starving children…
Spokesman: Nizar, I fully hear your statement. All I can say is that the discussions are ongoing. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Some other questions but I wanted to ask, I’m sure you’ve seen the story in The Guardian, actually by one of our colleagues or former colleagues here, Roger, about the systematic rape by an air contractor of the MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission] in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo]. And they basically say that there’s some pretty horrendous evidence or descriptions of what happened, that the UN kept paying the contractor after, with some idea of rehabilitating it. But I wanted to ask you about, there was an OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] investigation of it, and it seems since it’s also a vendor, it obviously brings up this other… this case in Bentiu, which it was a vendor, and the UN said it could do nothing. First, what can you say to those who say it’s pretty horrendous to continue to pay a contractor which raped an underage girl in the DRC?
Spokesman: What is… What is horrendous is what happened to the victim and what was done to the victim by those two employees of UTair. We go back to a story that was, in fact, reported, I think, when it happened a few years back. Our understanding is that the contractors have been… at the time, were removed and fired from the company. Both the DRC judicial authorities and the Russians were informed of the… of our investigation into the case. As we explained in the article, a procedure was put in place at the time to monitor the vendor and the behaviour of the vendor and its staff. That monitoring mechanism continues. Every six months, it is reported to our colleagues in the Department of Management, who review it.
I think… Again, I think the issue of vendors and contractors is a very legitimate one to explore. Given the criticality of air support, there was a discussion among the Department of Management. A system was put in place to ensure that this particular company was monitored and monitored on a regular basis, and that continues to do… we continue to do that. The behaviour of our vendors and the staff that work for them should be at the same level of ethics and behaviour that we expect of our own staff, as they represent us.
Question: And was there any account… for the actual… victims or victims in the DRC, was there actually any accountability, either criminal or civil?
Spokesman: Again, those… the findings of the OIOS investigation, the UN investigation, were presented to both the DRC and to the Russian authorities, and I think you’d have to ask for them what happened on the criminal end. As you know, we have no criminal authority.
Question: In the… in the… in the South Sudan case, where it was also an alleged rape by an employee of a vendor, was any information given to the authorities of either South Sudan…?
Spokesman: I think we’re still… what happened to Megan Nobert is being looked into. As I’ve said, both here and in interviews, she suffered horrendously, and our heart goes out to her. The… you know, UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund], which was the agency that had the contract with the vendor for which her accuser… the alleged attacker worked for, was in contact with the vendor, got him removed. I know our colleagues at UNICEF are absolutely appalled by what happened to Ms. Nobert. And when I have more information, I’ll share it with you.
Question: One final thing. Do you see this as a pat… given these… One, is there a pattern? And two, for example, since it’s a UN system, did UNICEF impose any of these similar rehabilitation and reporting requirements on…
Spokesman: Like I said, I don’t have all the facts surrounding this case. I think, again, I would say that we expect… I wouldn’t call it a pattern. I think there are hundreds, if not more, of vendors and contractors that work on behalf of the UN who do a spectacular job, partner agencies, partner humanitarian NGOs [non-governmental organizations]. But we do expect anyone who works on behalf of the United Nations to behave to the same ethical standards. I will…
Question: One… just one last one. The pattern I was asking about is a pattern of a lack of accountability. Because the UN is working in places that may have not very good… not… not very developed judicial systems and because the UN itself is immune…
Spokesman: I think it’s obviously something we need… it’s something we need to look at. Our ability to prosecute people criminally is obviously not there. It’s up to national… either the authority where the crime took place or the citizenship of where the people worked.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Yes, sir?
Question: What’s the latest military situation in Yemen? It seems that nobody respects the humanitarian pause now.
Spokesman: I can’t contradict your statement. I think Mr. O’Brien was very clear in his statement to the Security Council that the humanitarian pause was not being respected. Despite that, as you’ve just heard today, our colleagues at World Food Programme and others through local partners are able to distribute some food, but it’s not nearly enough to reach the 80 per cent of the population that is, in fact, in need of humanitarian aid. Again, I think, every day underscores the need for the political discussions to get back on track and, most immediately, for all the players involved, all those who control the weapons, to silence them so we can get the humanitarian aid to where it needs to be. Yes, ma’am, and then Evelyn.
Question: India executed early morning, this time today, Yakub Memon, who was a convict of the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts. Even as the SG and even the human rights organizations have called for India and other countries to abolish the death penalty, what is the SG’s comment on this?
Spokesman: We’ve taken note of what happened. The Secretary-General’s stance against the death penalty, in any case, remains the same. Evelyn Leopold?
Question: Yeah, I may have missed it because I was out ill, but is there any reaction to the sentencing in Libya of Qaddafi’s son?
Spokesman: I think we had something on that…
Spokesman: … two days ago. They… both our Human Rights… our colleagues at the Human Rights Office, I think, are concerned about the process and the standards of it and, again, to stress the United Nations stand against the death penalty in any case.
Question: There is evidence of starvation in Yemen, many pictures coming by Reuters and others show emaciated children, and many of them in distant or remote areas are dying. Is the United Nations considering sending airdrop to remote areas?
Spokesman: I think the… there is an extremely dire food situation in Yemen, as we’ve seen. The operational aspect of airdrops is a challenging one. It also require… not only for people who received the food but also challenge… it is challenging to conduct airdrops in what is basically an active military zone. But I know our colleagues at WFP are looking at every and any possibility of getting food to those who need it. But that can't happen, as I've just said, until the guns are silenced and the humanitarian aid can get through, whether by road, by air, or by sea.
Question: [inaudible] are not forthcoming. And are there any contacts with these countries who are carrying out these aerial bombardments?
Spokesman: There are contacts. The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy continues to be in contact with all the relevant Yemeni parties and regional parties, whether it’s the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Saudis, the Houthis, the General People’s Congress. We remain in touch with all the parties. And our call, reiterated by the Secretary-General, by his Emergency Relief Coordinator, remains the same: We need a humanitarian pause. Without that pause, the aid cannot get through at levels that we want it… that we want to have. Go and then Mr. Lee?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Regarding Syria, as Mr. Staffan de Mistura proposed yesterday to form these working groups, what could be the next step should be taken? I mean, will there be…
Spokesman: Well, obviously, we’re looking forward to the full backing of the Security Council and we understand there’s a presidential statement in the works. The next step is to get these working groups up and running, for invitations to go out. That’s what Mr. de Mistura’s team will be working on, and to get them up and running, I think the target date to really start will be September in Geneva.
Question: In Geneva?
Spokesman: Yes, sir. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask, there’s… this has to do with the UN’s engagement on the issue of Sri Lanka. There’s been a… Channel 4 has published what they say is a leaked UN document in which it appears that the UN is preparing to give its blessing to an entirely national accountability mechanism that would involve the National Provincial… according to the document, Northern Provincial Council, Tamil, which they deny that they ever saw it. They say it’s an outrage and would be a… a… kind of selling out the Human Rights Council and any international mechanism. I wanted to know, since I saw the pictures of Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman meeting with that group and that there was a lot of discussions of documents going back and forth, is the document referred to by Channel 4 a document that Mr. Feltman had?
Spokesman: Let me see… I don’t have any language on that with me here. Great. Thank you all. Oh.
Question: Sorry. One quick question. On the FAO on the high seas on the…
Question: …the real problem seems to be… as you can see, in all these stories in The New York Times recently, the real problem seems to be the flag of the country involved, which either doesn’t control their ships or can’t. And I just wonder if FAO’s going…
Spokesman: The problem of accountability to… for… for all sorts of activities on the high seas, whether it’s people who work… who are basically enslaved, or illegal fishing, illegal dumping, is a very challenging one and one that the UN system is working on in different parts, whether it’s the International Maritime Organization or UNEP [United Nations Environment Programme] and… or the FAO are working on, but you’re dealing with problems that some… run across national jurisdictions and sometimes happen on the high seas, where there is very limited jurisdiction altogether.
Question: I wanted to ask, this has to do with people that are fleeing the situation in Yemen. There were both stories, although in languages that Google doesn’t translate, and pictures of people protesting in Somaliland saying that they’re receiving no assistance whatsoever from the UN system. So I wanted to know, is… is there a distinction? Does the UN deal with those fleeing, whether to the Somalia part of it or the Somaliland part of it equally? Are they aware of this?
Spokesman: I… I will look into those responses. I know our humanitarian colleagues try to respond to people’s needs wherever they are.
Thank you. See you tomorrow, Friday? Yes? No?