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31 July 2015

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

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, apologies for the delay.

**West Bank

I want to start off with a statement on the arson attack in the West Bank.

The Secretary-General condemns today’s murder of a Palestinian child in the West Bank and calls for the perpetrators of this terrorist act to be promptly brought to justice.  He expresses his deepest condolences to the family of Ali Dawabsha, who were themselves severely injured in the arson attack.  Continued failures to effectively address impunity for repeated acts of settler violence have led to another horrific incident involving the death of an innocent life.  This must end.

The absence of a political process and Israel’s illegal settlement policy, as well as the harsh and unnecessary practice of demolishing Palestinian houses, have given rise to violent extremism on both sides.  This presents a further threat to the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people and to the security of the people of Israel.  The Secretary-General urges both sides to take bold steps to return to the path of peace.  The Secretary-General reiterates his call on all parties to ensure that tensions do not escalate further, leading to more loss of life.

Meanwhile, on the ground, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East [Peace Process], Nickolay Mladenov, also issued a statement in which he said he was outraged by the attack perpetrated against the Dawabsha family.  The Special Coordinator said that this murder was carried out for political objectives and added that we must not permit such acts to allow hate and violence to bring more personal tragedies and to bury any prospect of peace.  This reinforces the need for an immediate resolution of the conflict and an end to the occupation.

Mr. Mladenov also joined the strong condemnations issued by Israeli and Palestinian Government officials and political leaders.  And he called for a full and prompt investigation to bring the perpetrators of this terrorist crime to justice.

Mr. Mladenov this morning went to visit the family in the hospital where they are being treated and Mr. Mladenov also met with the President of Israel, Reuben Rivlin, who was also at the hospital.  And tomorrow morning Mr. Mladenov will meet with [Palestinian] President [Mahmoud] Abbas and will visit Douma village, where the house was burned down.

And when we have more to add, we will.

**Washington, D.C., Trip Announcement

The Secretary-General will travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with US President Barack Obama on Tuesday, 4 August.  They are expected to discuss various issues, including climate change, the post-2015 development agenda, as well as the situations in Syria and Yemen, among many others.

And the Secretary-General will be back in New York that same afternoon.

**Ebola

We issued very early this morning a statement by the Secretary-General on the transition of the UN Ebola Emergency Response.  And the Secretary-General said as we continue to actively strive to end the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, we have reached an important milestone in the global Ebola response.

The UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, UNMEER, will close on 31 July — that is today.  The Mission has achieved its core objective of scaling up the response on the ground and establishing unity of purpose among responders in support of the nationally led efforts.

As of 1 August, tomorrow, the oversight of the UN system’s Ebola emergency response will fully be led by the World Health Organization (WHO), under the direct authority of its Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan.  UN agencies, funds and programmes, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and the UN Mission in Liberia, national and international partners have undertaken the necessary steps to enable this seamless transition.

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, will continue to provide strategic guidance for the response.  And the full text of that statement is available online.

Also on Ebola — the World Health Organization today welcomed results from an interim analysis of a vaccine trial showing the possibility of a highly effective vaccine against the Ebola virus.

This comes after an independent body of international experts, called the Data and Safety Monitoring Board, reviewed the preliminary results of the analyses from the Guinea Phase III efficacy vaccine trial.  However, the board has advised that the trial should continue.

According to World Health Organization, while the vaccine shows 100 per cent efficacy in people, more conclusive evidence is needed on its capacity to protect populations through what is called “herd immunity”.

And on Ebola, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says that it is supporting a drive by the Liberian Government to register more than 70,000 children, whose births were not recorded during the Ebola crisis, leaving them vulnerable to marginalization and exclusion.

UNICEF is helping to revamp the registration systems, and will assist with training, logistics, and outreach efforts prior to a planned nationwide campaign later this year.

**Yemen

And on Yemen, our humanitarian colleagues inform us that humanitarian deliveries continue throughout Yemen, where possible.

UNHCR and the Society for Humanitarian Solidarity, SHS, distributed basic household supplies to families staying in schools in Aden’s Al Mansura district.  Medicines and medical supplies were sent to all eight districts of Aden, with 24 health facilities and four mobile teams with medical supplies and medications.

Three mobile teams covering at least 300 internally displaced people and host community members provided essential service packages for women and children in Mansouria district and Hudayda’s Lohaia district.  Excuse the pronunciation.

**Earlier Questions

Matthew, I think you’d raised the issue of people who have fled the conflict in Yemen who are now in Somalia and about whether we make a distinction between Somalia and Somaliland in assisting such people. 

According to our friends at UNHCR, more than 23,000 people, that’s 90 per cent of whom are Somalis, have arrived in Somalia.  The WFP [World Food Programme] is providing cooked meals to all returnees at the transit centres, as well as nutrition support to children under 5, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers to prevent malnutrition.  WFP is also issuing electronic transfer cards with the value of $100 to provide to vulnerable Somalis leaving the transit centres and returning to their regions of origin.  WFP is providing similar assistance to the Yemeni nationals who are settled in Gardo, Puntland.

As for a distinction between Somalia and Somaliland, the UN system is guided by humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality.  We are responding to the needs of vulnerable people in both regions regardless of politics.

**Myanmar Floods

And a couple of notes relating to Myanmar — our colleagues at OCHA tell us that Cyclonic Storm Komen has made landfall in Bangladesh and caused heavy rainfall in several areas across Myanmar before it dissipated.

The storm was off the northernmost part of Rakhine State for several days, causing flooding, and disrupting transport, electricity and communications.  The airport in the state capital of Sittwe is still closed.  The Government reports that 21 people have died this month as a result of the floods, with 117,000 people severely affected.

Aid agencies are assessing initial damage to infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), yesterday visited Myanmar’s Kachin State, where more than 100,000 people have been displaced since a ceasefire agreement between the Myanmar Armed Forces and ethnic armed groups broke down in 2011.

In the township of Myitkyina, the Special Envoy met with displaced families and heard about challenges, including access to basic services such as health care.

**Guyana

Yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General had a phone call with the President of Guyana, Mr. David Granger.  The Secretary-General spoke with the President following their meeting on the margins of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community in Barbados earlier this month.

The Secretary-General took note of President Granger’s views regarding the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy.  The Secretary-General stated his intent to dispatch UN Secretariat staffers to undertake a mission to both Guyana and Venezuela.  He expressed his willingness to further discuss the issue with the Presidents of both countries on the basis of the mission’s recommendations.  When we have more operation details, we shall share them.

**Questions and Answers

And I think I’ve run out of things to say.

Abdelhamid and then Edie.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  In fact, this week, there were many acts of intimidation, provocation, and violence from the part of the Israelis against the Palestinians, the settlement, and the community of Susiya and this act of killing this child and his… burning his family and also the Israeli Knesset by a vote of 82 against 18, they voted to punish…

Spokesman:  I know these things, Abdelhamid.  What is the question?

Question:  The question is, when the statement said both sides and equalize them, the victimizer and the victim, how can… how can that… any statement should equalize between occupied people and occupiers?

Spokesman:  I don’t read the statement that way.  I think the statement is very clear in this condemnation of the terrorist act of arson that led to the death of a baby, the wounding of several others.  What the Secretary‑General is saying is that both sides, both leaders, need to make a courageous move and return to the path of peace.  In this situation and many others, there is a spiral and a cycle of violence, which by definition, goes around and around.  We have seen extremist acts and terrorist, terror acts on all sides.  That’s what the Secretary-General is referring to.  Our focus is on the death and the suffering of the people, and the Secretary-General in his statement talks about the aspirations of the Palestinian people, as well as the security needs of the people of Israel.

Edie.  You’ll have to wait one.  Edie then Matthew.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On another subject, the General Assembly yesterday adopted a resolution aimed at combating illegal trafficking and wildlife.  This comes at a time of global outrage over the killing of a beloved lion in Zimbabwe.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on this effort and the need to protect wildlife?

Spokesman:  I think we very much welcome the decision by the General Assembly which will help in the protection of wildlife, of fauna and flora — I think help protect more animals from poaching.  Obviously, the killing of this lion in Zimbabwe was extremely unfortunate.  We understand the Zimbabwean authorities are investigating, that a legal procedure is under way; an investigation is under way to exactly, to ascertain what the facts were and how this animal came to be killed.

Matthew then Nizar.

Question:  Sure.  I have some other questions, but yesterday I’d asked you about Sri Lanka and this memo that’s emerged where the UN appears to be working for a purely national mechanism.  And the foreign ministry spokesman there has spoken today about Mr. Feltman’s trip and has mentioned the Peacebuilding Fund.  So I wanted to ask you more specifically, is Mr. Taranco and the Peacebuilding Fund considering funding a purely national accountability mechanism in Sri Lanka contrary to what’s been said here and to the Human Rights Council report that’s due in September?

Spokesman:  I think what I can tell you is that the UN supports the Government and the people of Sri Lanka and their efforts to advance reconciliation and accountability as evidenced by commitments made by the Secretary General and during the Under-Secretary-General’s recent visit — Feltman’s recent visit to Sri Lanka.  In this regard, we’re exploring provision of a broad package of technical and financial assistance at the request of the Chief Minister, also including the support of the Northern Province to bolster citizen confidence in the peace process.  What is currently under discussion for support by the Peacebuilding Fund are initiatives to advance the process of reconciliation in Sri Lanka by resettlement of internally displaced persons, national reconciliation, strengthening human rights mechanism, and ending impunity.  The UN support is always based on the basis of inclusive and participatory consultations with all key stakeholders.  And my understanding is that already $1 million have been already dispersed to support resettlement and integration initiatives for the remaining internally displaced people in the north and east on land that’s been… on seized land that have been returned by the Government.  For the rest, we continue to consult with the Government of Sri Lanka and the Northern Provincial Council and all key stakeholders to finalize the UN support.

Question:  Are you saying this Peacebuilding Fund… because I’m looking at the document, and… and… are you saying that the Peacebuilding Fund support is not for an accountability mechanism that would be entirely national, which is the one denounced by the Tamil group that you mentioned?

Spokesman:  You know, I think the… whether there should be domestic or international process, the… I think what we are looking at is obviously implementing projects both with the support of the Government and the Northern Provincial Council.  If I have more, I will share it with you.

Question:  What about an international mechanism?

Spokesman:  I think, you know, whether it’s domestic or international, that will need to be determined.  We are obviously awaiting the High Commissioner’s report and recommendations to make that decision.

Question:  [inaudible] Nablus.  The right of resistance by the Palestinians people is enshrined in the Charter, which anyone who’s under occupation has the right to resist occupation, so there is no margin here for equating the occupier with the occupied and condemning both as on a par does not really…

Spokesman:  I appreciate that some people in this room may have a different analysis of what I’ve just read.  That’s your right.  What… what I—

Question:  In the past—

Spokesman:  What I’m saying and more importantly, what the Secretary‑General is saying is that he reiterates his call on all parties to ensure that tensions do not escalate further and that both sides, the leadership on both sides, take bold steps to return to the path of peace.  It’s the absence of a political peace process that allows extremists to take the lead.

Question:  On the same subject, now this reminds us of the deletion or omission of the Secretary‑General of Israel from the list of shame in… on children under armed conflict.  Will there be another deletion in the future, I mean, for Israel?  Doesn’t such deletion… encourage such settlers…

[inaudible]

Spokesman:  You’re asking me hypothetical questions that are best not asked of a Spokesman.

Question:  Okay.

 

Spokesman:  There will be a report next year, as there is every year, on children in armed conflict.  I think what we need to focus on is this horrendous suffering of this family, and I think the Secretary-General’s condemned this act in no uncertain terms.  I will--

Question:  On Yemen…

Spokesman:  I’ll come back to you on Yemen.  Nizar and Olga have been very patient.  Masood has been patient.  Nizar is never patient.

[Laughter]

Question:  Okay.  Yeah.  In this case, yes.  My question is…

Spokesman:  I’m very patient.

Question:  …has the Secretary‑General spoken or will he be speaking with the Israeli authorities on this issue in particular?  And also, the issue about the… in the event of the report on Israeli destruction of homes last year in July…

Spokesman:  I think, at this point, Nikolay Mladenov, the Secretary-General’s point man on the ground, as I said, has already met with the President of Israel.  He’ll meet with President Abbas tomorrow.  He will be continuing his contacts with government officials on both sides.  If I have something to add in terms of who the Secretary-General’s talking to, I shall.  On the issue of the destruction of Palestinian homes, we have referred it in just this statement, and we’ve already spoken about it earlier this week.

Question:  This… no, I was talking about in the… after the Gaza conflict, the report that Israel wilfully destroyed, is there a talk about reparations…

Spokesman:  I have nothing to add on that at this point.

Question:  Okay.

Spokesman:  Olga.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I’d like to go back to Yemen.  Earlier this week, Stephen O’Brien said at the Security Council that none of the parties of the conflict in Yemen had observed the truce announced last weekend.  In this case, does UN envoy Ismail [Ould] Cheikh Ahmed work on the new ceasefire with parties?

Spokesman:  It’s not so much working on a new ceasefire.  It is working on trying to convince the parties to observe a humanitarian pause, which they have yet to do.  Despite the lack of a pause, despite the continuing fighting, UN agencies working with local partners and local staff are able to distribute some food, as I’ve just said today, some supplies, which is basically a drop, a grain of sand in the desert.  Eighty per cent of the population in Yemen is in need of aid.  What we need are a few days of calm to get trucks on the streets and to reach the people that we need to reach.

Question:  [inaudible] has he met…

Spokesman:  Yes.  He’s been in Saudi Arabia.  He’s met in the last few days with the GCC.  He’s met with Saudi ministers.  And he continues to be in contact with the parties in Yemen over the phone.

Question:  This week?

Spokesman:  Yes, ma’am.  Yes, in the back.

Question:  [inaudible] again.  Do you think Israel’s illegal settlement activities serve as an encouragement for these type of attacks by Jewish settlers?

Spokesman:  I think I would refer you to what I’ve just said read.  Absence of political process in Israeli illegal settlement policy, as well as the harsh and unnecessary practise of demolishing Palestinian houses, have given rise to violent extremism on both sides.  So I think that answers your question.  Matthew.

Question:  On this… [inaudible] Pakistan’s political party MQM has just claimed that it has submitted a letter to the Secretary-General on the mistreatment of its political opponents and also [inaudible] Pakistani [inaudible] and so forth.  Was there such letter received by the Secretary-General?

Spokesman:  I have not seen it, but I will check.  Let’s try it again.  Matthew.

[The Spokesman later said the letter was received on 28 July.]

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about what’s emerged reported by Fox, as I’m sure you’re sure to say, about Ms. Dubinsky, the Ethics Officer contract extension, which would give her a lifetime pension, and the extension was given just as she discussed investigating Mr. Kompass on the Central African Republic rape allegations.  And I’m asking you this because the head of Aids-Free World and Code Blue, you say you respect, as well as the Government Accountability Project, both find that an extreme… extremely troubling timing and say that it calls for… demands Secretary-General Ban’s personal attention, the idea of a conflict of interest of giving $12,000 a year for life to the person that was investigating the whistle-blower of these rapes.  What’s your response?

Spokesman:  Indeed, I respect them.  I also very much respect the work that Ms. Dubinsky has been doing over the last five years.  I know the Secretary-General does as well.  This is her last day.  She’ll be retiring as of tomorrow. I think the piece by my friend George Russell, whom I also respect — I respect a lot of people — I think makes, connects all sorts of dots that are, frankly, not connected.  I think in accordance with UN staff regulations and staff rules, the authority for the selection of staff members at D-2 Level and above rests with the Secretary-General including the retention of staff members beyond the retirement age should the need arise.  The Secretary-General attaches great importance to the selection and appointment of senior managers as a priority seeks to have smooth transition during a change in leadership.  We’re not in a position to discuss individual staff members’ contracts.  The UN has an obligation to ensure the integrity and confidentiality of all staff records.  As I mentioned, her term ends today.  Again, the Secretary-General is grateful for her work.  And I think, you know, what is also of concern, I think, is the fact that some of her personal data was leaked, was leaked to the press and personal information concerning her.

Question:  Who’s the next Ethics Officer?  If the rationale for giving the extension was continuity…

Spokesman:  We hope to announce someone in due time.

Question:  Has she been spoken with by the panel on these rapes...

Spokesman:  I don’t know.  The panel is independent.  I’ve made it a point to have no contact with them unless asked to, and I won’t ask them who they plan to talk to.

Question:  And just finally, how do you reply… the Government Accountability Project, again a respected organization, has now said that two of the three panellists are not, in fact, independent because of the dangling of future UN appointments in front of the…

Spokesman:  I think the panel put together is an extraordinary panel.  I think everyone can always find something to argue with.  They are… they are people of great ethical standard.  They are people who have had great legal careers, have been outspoken human rights defenders, have done great reform work in the case of the Canadian Armed Forces.  I would ask people to judge the panel on its report and to be a little bit patient and see what they come up with.  Madame Fasulo.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have a quick question regarding Yemen.  I believe you said that about 80 per cent of the civilians are in need of basic…

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  …necessities.  The question I have is, I thought somewhere I had heard that, before this latest conflict, about 70 or 75 per cent of civilians were in need.  Is—

Spokesman:  Indeed.  You know, the number of people in Yemen who were in need of humanitarian aid before the conflict were staggering.  I remember — I think it may have been Robert Piper, one of our humanitarian colleagues, said there were more people in humanitarian need in Yemen than all of Sahel.  I think the difference between now and then is access.  We can’t get to people.  You know, I mean, even in good times, access throughout Yemeni provinces is difficult because of infrastructure.  If you’re in the middle of a combat zone, it becomes nearly impossible.  The people hired by WFP and others to drive trucks, understandably, need assurances that — or at least need to feel — that they can drive safely.  And we don’t, we can’t give them those assurances as the fighting is continuing.  Nizar then Abdelhamid.

Question:  On Yemen as well, have you heard any statements by Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed regarding his endeavours to arrange a ceasefire?  For many months now, his mission seems in failure.  He hasn’t achieved any progress.  What was…

Spokesman:  Listen…

[inaudible]

Question:  …implemented…

Spokesman:  I respectfully disagree with you, because I do respect you, Nizar.  But I think Mr. Ismail has been outspoken.  He has spoken not… he has not been silent for the last few months.  We have worked very, very hard, very diligently, to get the parties to honour a humanitarian pause.  They have not.  The responsibility for lack of humanitarian pause does not lie with the mediator.  It lies with the parties.

Question:  [inaudible]  At least he did not announce anything regarding targeting hundreds of schools in Yemen or civilian infrastructure.  Yes, there were statements from the Secretary‑General.  In Sa’ada alone, 50 schools were both—

Spokesman:  You know, the Special Envoy represents the Secretary-General.  A statement by the Secretary-General covers the opinions of the Special Envoy.  Abdelhamid then Masood.

Question:  Thank you.  Stéphane, I asked you before about if the Secretary-General has any opinion on that law which passed by the Knesset, which says that they will sentence up to 20 years in jail of those who throw stones at the Israeli occupation forces.  That’s one question.  The second:  in both statements Mladenov on the provocation and the Al‑Aqsa Mosque and the Secretary‑General on the settlement, the word “occupied” is missing, and I keep saying and repeatedly said that here.  Why when they mention is Jerusalem, they don’t say “occupied Jerusalem”?  Why when they mention West Bank, they don’t say “occupied West Bank”?  This is an important… It’s not… a choice…

Spokesman:  I think you will find that we use the right terminology and the accepted terminology in the reports and official reports.  I think the Secretary-General respects and follows the UN terminology, and that’s his position.  Masood.

Question:  Has the Secretary‑General spoken with anybody in the Saudi coalition about a lull in the ceasefire?  Has he spoken recently with anybody at all?

Spokesman:  He has had a conversation recently earlier this week with the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, which touched upon Yemen but was also very much focused on a request for financial support to UNRWA.  As you know, UNRWA is at a critical stage in its funding.  A decision has to be made soon about whether to delay the reopening of schools.  The Secretary‑General has been working the phones, with leaders in the region, in the Middle East, and others in Europe to try to secure the necessary bridge funding for UNRWA. Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure.  I’m glad to get this cycle of respect… calls out of respect going.  In that vein…

Spokesman:  Respect.

Question:  …I wanted to ask you the following:  The Secretary-General’s trip on Tuesday to the White House, why wasn’t it sent out to all resident correspondents to give them equal access—

Spokesman:  It was sent out to UNCA [United Nations Correspondents Association].  I think we were in touch with you today.  If you—

Question:  It—

Spokesman:  Listen — if you want to, if you want to participate in the photo op, you need to give us the information sooner rather than later.  And I think, you know, UNCA, FUNCA, I would… as I said in the statement, I would urge both parties to take bold steps and solve this issue once and for all.

Question:  I would just say send it to all resident correspondents like you do things about the garage and everything else.  It seems pretty straightforward.

Spokesman:  I hear you.

Question:  Okay.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  On that note, have a wonderful weekend.

For information media. Not an official record.