4 August 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

Good afternoon, everyone.  As you know, the Secretary-General is in Washington, D.C., now with President Barack Obama and we will try to get some details of that meeting later once we have that.  I believe the Secretary-General will make some remarks to the press and we will try to have a readout, but that should be available later this afternoon.


On Burundi, you will have seen that last night we put out a statement in which the Secretary-General strongly condemned the assassination attempt on Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, a leading Burundian human rights defender who was shot and wounded by unknown assailants in Bujumbura.

This incident, which comes only a day after the killing of General Adolphe Nshimirimana, is part of a growing pattern of politically motivated violence in Burundi that must be broken before it escalates beyond control.  The Secretary-General stresses that accountability and the resumption of a genuine and inclusive political dialogue are the best response to such attempts to destabilize Burundi.

And also yesterday, the Secretary-General held a conference call with President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, and Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, to discuss the situation in Burundi.

The Secretary-General expressed his full support for President Museveni’s efforts to facilitate an inclusive political dialogue in Burundi on behalf of the East African Community.

He also called for the swift resumption of the dialogue to defuse mounting tensions and pave the way for the formation of a government of national unity.  It was agreed that the United Nations, the East African Community and the African Union should continue working closely together in a coordinated and unified approach to find a sustainable solution to the crisis in Burundi.  That statement and the readout are available.

And also on Burundi, and to follow up on what Stéphane [Dujarric] said here yesterday, our colleagues from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [OHCHR] said today in Geneva that they were deeply concerned at the brutal arrest and ill treatment, on 2 August, of the RFI and AFP local correspondent, Esdras Ndikumana, by agents belonging to the Service National de Renseignement [SNR], the national intelligence agency.

Mr. Ndikumana was taking pictures at the crime site where General Adolphe Nshimirimana was killed on 2 August when he was arrested and brutalized by SNR agents.  They took him to their headquarters in Bujumbura and reportedly subjected him to torture, claiming that he was a “journalist enemy”.  He is currently under medical care, suffering from a broken finger and psychological trauma.


We have an update on the work being done by the Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who just completed several days of discussions in Cairo.

Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed met with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Nabil Elaraby, who was fully supportive of his efforts.  And he also met with the senior officials of the General People’s Congress party in his continuing efforts to push for a political solution.

In the coming days, the Special Envoy plans to visit Oman and Riyadh to hold further discussions with Yemeni officials.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said today that the civilian death toll in Yemen has risen to at least 1,916, with another 4,186 civilians wounded since the escalation of the armed conflict on 26 March.  Over the past few weeks, it added, there have been two particularly devastating attacks in residential areas.

And the World Food Programme [WFP] and its partners last week began food distributions to around 340,000 people in eight of the worst-affected areas of the port city of Aden.  All of these districts — except one — had not been reached since April because of conflict.  While WFP continues to send assistance to Yemeni ports, including Aden, Saleef and Hodeidah, commercial food and fuel imports are urgently needed to meet the growing needs of hundreds of thousands of people.


The UN refugee agency [UNHCR] said today that despite strong winds, heavy rains and serious flooding, its teams, and other UN and aid organizations staff have reached camps for displaced people in Rakhine’s capital, Sittwe, and other nearby towns in Myanmar.

The Agency said that an assessment of 24 camps has found that a quarter of temporary shelters have been damaged and more than 21,000 people have been affected as a result.

UNHCR and its partners are still looking at the impact of the cyclone on displaced people in Rakhine and Kachin to identify immediate needs and distribute relief items.

In Maungdaw in Rakhine, more than 2,000 households have been affected, but receding floodwaters have allowed many evacuated families to return home in recent days.

And UNHCR has distributed relief items such as blankets, mats and buckets to people sheltering in official reception centres, as well as to others.  And we have more in the briefing notes from UNHCR.

**South Sudan

And we were asked yesterday about the situation in Yambio, South Sudan.

The UN Mission there (UNMISS) says that the security situation has improved and that the majority of the civilians have returned home.

As you know, opening UNMISS compounds to civilians is and will remain a last resort measure.

Right now, the Mission is protecting civilians by various means to create security conditions for a safer environment.  These include engaging with local authorities and conducting patrols.  UNMISS has increased patrols in an attempt to restore a sense of safety and security in Yambio by patrolling day and night and providing a reassuring presence.

**Press Conference

And following this briefing, at 12:30 p.m., Ambassador [U.] Joy Ogwu of Nigeria, the President of the Security Council for the month of August, will be here to brief you on the Council’s programme of work for the month, which was adopted earlier this morning.

And until you meet her, which I’m sure you’re waiting for, are there any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Yes, Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on Russia’s submission to the United Nations Commission on the Continental Shelf for its claim to vast territories in the Arctic?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  We don’t have any particular comment.  As you know, different Member States file their claims to this commission, and the Commission will review them.  While that procedure is ongoing, I wouldn’t have anything to say from the Secretary-General’s side.

Question:  Can I follow up on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, yes, of course.

Question:  Can you enlighten us a bit on how it works?  I mean, what exactly is the Commission going to be looking at?  How many competing claims are there at this point?  Is it still open to other claims?  What… what’s the state of play?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, this is actually a fairly sensitive process, so there’s not a lot of comment I can make while we are in the process of receiving claims.  We have a Commission that does receive the claims.  This is one of the mechanisms under the system created by the Law of the Sea Treaty, and we’ll see where we go from that.  I’m trying to get some more procedural details, and I’ll share them with you if I get them, but at this stage, right now, the basic point is that the Commission does receive these claims and we don’t have any comment while the process plays itself out.

Question:  [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesman:  Speak into the microphone, please.

Question:  If you could share with us what the next steps are when the claims—

Deputy Spokesman:  Sure.  And I’ve asked my colleagues for something like that.

Question:  Thank you so much.

Deputy Spokesman:  If I get any details on what the next steps will be, I’ll let you know.  [The Deputy Spokesman later added the following details about the process:  On 3 August 2015, the Russian Federation submitted to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, in accordance with Article 76, paragraph 8, of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), revised information on the limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles in respect of the Arctic Ocean.

This partial revised Submission was made in response to the “Recommendations of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in regard to the Submission made by the Russian Federation on 20 December 2001” of June 2002.  It can also be recalled that, in February 2013, the Russian Federation had made another partial revised Submission in response to the same Recommendations, in respect of the Okhotsk Sea. The Commission issued its Recommendations in respect of that revised Submission in March 2014.

In accordance with the Rules of Procedure of the Commission, a communication is being circulated to all Member States of the United Nations, as well as States Parties to the Convention, in order to make public the executive summary of the partial revised submission in respect of the Arctic Ocean, including all charts and coordinates contained in that summary.

Upon receipt of a submission by the Secretary-General, the consideration of that submission shall be included in the provisional agenda of the next ordinary session of the Commission, provided that that session, is held not earlier than three months after the date of the publication by the Secretary-General of the executive summary of the Submission, including all charts and coordinates.

In this case, given that there is no plenary during the upcoming thirty-ninth session (October/November 2015) the revised submission will be included in the provisional agenda for the fortieth session of the Commission, to be held in February/March 2016 (exact dates will be determined by the General Assembly in late December).]

Yes, Oleg?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On [Omar] al-Bashir’s visit to New York this September, does Ban Ki-moon plan to visit… meet him personally?  What’s the position of meeting a person who is wanted for crimes against humanity and genocide and letting him speak from the General Assembly?  And also, were there any requests from the ICC (International Criminal Court), probably, when it was well known that he’s going to come to New York?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I don’t speak on behalf of the ICC, but what is clear and what the Secretary-General has said repeatedly is that he believes that the Member States of the UN system need to take the warrant issued by the International Criminal Court seriously, and, of course, as you know, there are relevant resolutions of the Security Council also about this matter, which we expect the Member States will abide by.


Question:  Yes, but basically, he’s coming to the UN premises, so will the UN do anything in this case?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I… at this stage, I’m not… I’m not aware that this is confirmed.  I am aware of what the Permanent Mission has said on this, but at this stage, I’m not aware of what the arrangements are for this.  And we’ll have to see how that goes.  But certainly, we have continued to treat the matter of the ICC prosecutions regarding Darfur seriously, and we believe all Member States should do so.  Yes?

Question:  Some questions on Burundi, but just a follow‑up on this.  It seems like this is based on the provisional list of speakers for the post-2015 talks, and so they did list Head of State (HS) of Sudan, but for the US, they listed… there’s noth… it’s the only country where there’s no HS… HS or HG (Head of Government) after the name of the country.  So I wanted to know what… why that is and who the U… who the UN believes is coming for the US.

Deputy Spokesman:  You actually have to check with the respective Member States for this.  What happens is this list reflects the submissions made by the various Permanent Missions.  So if you want the most up-to-the-minute details, check with each Member State, who are ultimately responsible for who their representation will be.

Question:  I guess, from what you’re saying, since all other States listed on this page have something after it even if it’s only an “M,” does this mean the US is the only State who didn’t say who’s coming?

Deputy Spokesman:  At this stage, we… the list reflects the submissions by each of the Permanent Missions, so you’d have to reflect that, ask the missions ultimately.  What happens for a lot of them is that sometimes they… they… sometimes different missions leave things open until they know for sure who’s representing them.


Question:  Regarding the initiative… the Iranian initiative about Syria, has United Nations been in consultations with Iran before presenting their amended initiative with regard to the resolution of the Syrian crisis?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, visited Iran just a few weeks ago as part of his consultations before he came back to brief the Secretary-General and the Security Council; so, yes, he’s been in touch with the Iranian officials and believes that they have an important role to play in this process.

Question:  And did he discuss with them these amended, I mean, items in the initiative?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we provided you a readout what Mr. de Mistura’s discussions were when he was in Tehran so I would just refer you back to what we said at the time.

Question:  In Yemen, the situation in the northern states, especially, governorates, especially north of Sana’a, is very dire, as reports are coming from there.  And people there are complaining that none of the aid has arrived to them in many places like Hajjah, like Sa’ada, and other areas.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, there have been difficulties getting aid, and, of course, we have pointed out the various difficulties both in access and in funding that we have been facing.  As you know, there’s a huge number of people, four fifths of the population, who need our help.  As I just read out to you, there has been more aid coming in from the World Food Programme.  It’s been able to dock some of its ship… some aid through the port of Aden and then move aid onwards from there.  And we’re trying to get aid moved to all those in need, but we do have those difficulties, and we do ask all parties for the access that we need and, of course, we continue to prevail upon Member States to contribute the funding, including the funds that have been pledged.

Question:  Just a quick follow‑up on that.  Are you facing any difficulties transiting things from Aden up to Hudaydah to other places?

Deputy Spokesman:  There have been difficulties created in particular by insecurity, by fighting.  This is one of the reasons why we have asked the parties repeatedly for humanitarian pauses.  As you know, each of the past two humanitarian pauses was not honoured on the ground, and that hindered our ability to provide aid, and we continue to try to get access and there will continue to be needs for some sort of a humanitarian pause so that we can actually provide aid to those who need it.

Yes, Oleg?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Coming back to this draft list of speakers on the Summit in September, it seems like the last day is going to be the most important for… in terms of the level of the speakers and everything.  There would be Russian President [Vladimir] Putin and President [Petro] Poroshenko of Ukraine.  They’re going to be speaking in the morning session.  I believe that they’re going to be almost… well, close to each other.  I mean, in terms that there will be so many high‑level speakers coming, is Ban Ki‑moon planning or is he ready to convene anything like a meeting on… probably on the Ukraine with all those VIPs coming?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have anything on Ukraine to announce at this point.  We do expect a number of high‑level meetings, and we’ll try to give you more of the details on that closer to the event once the arrangements have solidified a little bit more.  But at this stage, yes, you’re right.  We do expect for the 70th anniversary of the United Nations that this will be a very huge turnout, so we’re trying to seize the occasion and get a number of meetings going.  Some of them, like the one on migration, you’ve already heard of in recent weeks and months, but we’ll provide more details as they come.

Question:  A quick follow-up?

Deputy Spokesman:  Sure.

Question:  I was referring to probably like a trilateral with Ban Ki-moon, Poroshenko and Putin, something like that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I certainly don’t have anything to confirm on that this early.  We’ll have to see closer to the end of September what we can say about the various meetings.  Of course, the Secretary-General will try to use the occasion to take the opportunity to deal with as many of the big crises and big disputes that we face internationally, but we’ll see what the arrangements are the closer we get to that.  Yes?

Question:  As a follow-up on President al-Bashir being on the speakers’ list, am I right in believing that under the agreement with the host country, the United States is required to give visas to every basically Head of State or Government coming to the General Assembly for the annual general debate?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, the basic understanding is that the Heads of State and Government who come for the general debate will be able to come to the United States in order to speak.  As you know, there have been some disputes about this over the years, but the general rule has been that.

Yes, Evelyn?

Question:  Just a follow-up.  Could the United States refuse a visa and not let them in or could they arrest them at the airport?  Even though they’re not a signatory to the ICC, they did agree to the Council resolution.

Deputy Spokesman:  That would essentially be a matter to ask the United States Government.  I wouldn’t… I wouldn’t comment on what they may or may not do.

Yes, Joe?

Question:  Well, again, to further follow up, is it your understanding that immunity would attach to all Heads of State in transit between the arrival point in the United States and the UN Headquarters?

Deputy Spokesman:  Your comment following up on her comment is basically a question based on a speculative question, so I wouldn’t go further on that realm of speculation.

Question:  Well, no, I mean, if he’s coming to the United States and that’s our understanding, he’s going to be in transit from the airport to the UN, and I’m asking whether under your understanding or if you can find out from the… legal what… does immunity attach during his transit from the airport to the UN Headquarters?

Deputy Spokesman:  I wouldn’t comment on that at this stage, precisely because it remains hypothetical.  Regarding the issue of immunity, that is covered in a number of treaties including the Vienna Conventions, and I would just refer you to those.


Question:  Sure.  On the host country agreement, I wanted to ask whether, given the new re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba, whether Cuban nationals who work for the UN are still subject to a 25-mile restriction outside of New York.

Deputy Spokesman:  Again, that’s a question to ask the US authorities.  This is not a restriction that is imposed by the United Nations.  It’s a question of the bilateral relations between those two countries.

Question:  Right.  But given the UN speaks up about restrictions on travel on its staff in countries likes Sudan and don’t ask Sudan if they’re restricting our staff, I’m asking you are UN staff members who are nationals of Cuba still restricted within 25 miles, as a UN question?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, that’s a question actually of US policy.  Does the US policy make that restriction?  Please ask the US Government on that.  That’s not something that’s put upon anyone by us.

Yes, Majid?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Yesterday marked one year of the ISIS attack on Sinjar and killing thousands of Yazidi minority, and several high-level UN officials asked yesterday to bring those who committed those crime to justice.  Since there’s no functioning, let’s say, a court system in Iraq and judicial system in the country because of the chaos and all that, there are calls that those who were arrested — there are several leaders who committed those crimes; ISIS leaders are now arrested by Kurdish authorities and Iraqi authorities -- to be brought to ICC, this case to be brought to International Criminal Court.  What is in general the Secretary-General’s position about this?  When there is in a country like in Iraq, when there’s no judicial system, can… does he think that ICC should be an alternative?  Regardless of the legal framework…

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, there is a question of legal framework.  Ultimately, cases are referred to the ICC by one of two ways, either through a Security Council referral or if it’s referred to by a country that is a State party to the Rome Statute, which is not the case in this particular situation.  So that is one point.

Obviously, the Secretary-General believes that justice needs to be done in this case.  As you may know, his Special Representative in Iraq, Ján Kubiš, put out a statement over the weekend on the anniversary, the one‑year anniversary, of the Sinjar attacks, and he’s made it very clear how horrific these crimes were, the killings, the mass displacements, the rapes, the use of people for sexual slavery.  There’s a huge number of crimes and atrocities that need to be looked into, and Mr. Kubiš has made clear, again, that it has to happen through some competent legal or judicial authority, and so we continue to hold to that.

Question:  Right.  My question here is about the Secretary-General, does he think there should be a push for this, for the ICC, since there’s no functioning legal system in Iraq?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General’s bottom line is that there needs to be some form of justice.  If it cannot be done in-country, we have to think of how… what sort of alternative there would be.  Regarding the ICC, the Secretary‑General doesn’t have a role in that particular process.  Like I said, it would either come through Security Council referral or if Iraq were to become a party and request that.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The United Nations is part and parcel of the Quartet.  I understand the Quartet would be dissolved and replaced by a new group.  What is its status at the present time?

Deputy Spokesman:  The status at the present time is unchanged.  There have been discussions about ways to revitalize the work of the Quartet.  The Quartet members, which, as you know, are the US, the UN, the Russian Federation and the European Union, they continue to be in touch with each other, particularly at the envoys’ level and they continue to see how they can best go about their work.  Ultimately, the main idea is to find some way to revitalize the process and bring the Israelis and Palestinians back into talks.


Question:  I wanted to ask, on Burundi, I definitely saw those statements.  Many people in the country or in the capital have said that the family… the family members of Pierre Claver Mbonimpa are themselves under threat both at the hospital and their homes.  People sent out pleas for protection.  I wonder, one, has the UN… is the UN aware of those pleas?  Two, has anyone in the UN actually visited him in the hospital as a number of diplomats in Bujumbura did?  And three, what’s the status of MENUB (United Nations Electoral Mission in Burundi) going forward?  Does it remain in the country?  Does it… I know you’re going to say check their mandate, but just, physically, who are the UN personnel who are actually in the country at this time to… you know, to act on these things you’re so concerned about?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the electoral mission, MENUB, has done its work.  You’ve seen the evaluations that they’ve put in, and they’ll continue to go about the rest of their mandated tasks.

Regarding Mr. Mbonimpa, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights put out its concerns about his situation, which I’ve just read out, and they continue to follow the situation, and they will try to follow up with him and his family members as needed.

Question:  And after that call with President Museveni, what’s the… what’s the understanding of the UN of the status of the Ugandan-led mediation?  Is the defence minister in the country?  Is there… what’s the sort of… I mean, I saw the readout.  I guess there are people saying, like, what’s the next step given that the situation is deteriorating so much?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the next step is that the UN, the East African community, and the African Union are going to continue to coordinate their efforts.  We continue to support the facilitation work.  So, yes, the facilitation work by Uganda is ongoing, and we expect it to continue, and we hope that we can also, hopefully sometime in the near future, announce someone who can lead the UN efforts on Burundi, and we’ll see when we can make an announcement on that.


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Any updates on Humanitarian Coordinator [Stephen] O’Brien?  He announced his plans to visit Syria and, did he agree… get the agreement from the Government?  Is he going over there?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have any details to… on this just yet.  He did talk about his intention to go there, and that will be worked out, but we’ll announce the trip once we have details on when he can go.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Regarding the UN summit, which starts on 25 September, which lasts three days, do you have any sense on which day they’re going to vote… they’re going to adopt the agenda?  Will it be either in the very beginning or at the end?  Generally speaking.

Deputy Spokesman:  We’re so far ahead of the events right now that it’s difficult to predict.  Obviously, the idea is for them to adopt it over the course of their proceedings.  When that happens, the schedule will become much more clear, probably about a month from now.

Question:  But generally speaking, it’s either in the beginning or at the end; right?  Not in the middle.

Deputy Spokesman:  Traditionally, that’s how it works, but we’ll have to see… we’ll have to see what the Member States themselves agree to.

Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Regarding the situation in Jerusalem, today a settler… French settler raised the Israeli flag on al-Aqsa Mosque.  Also the security forces, the Israeli security forces, arrested those in charge of guarding the mosque itself.  These provocations, does the United Nations have anything to say about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  You’ll have seen what we said last Friday about our concerns about the latest violence and provocations, and that holds true today.  We continue to be concerned and we hope that the authorities on the ground will respond appropriately.


Question:  Two questions about the Central African Republic.  One is just there was a study report, I guess, it came out on Friday by Amnesty International about the… this sort of forced conversion of Muslims in the Central African Republic and the fact that many of the people that left are basic… those were thought to come from Chadian or Sudanese grandparents are not returning.  I wanted to know if… I don’t know if you had some response or the UN had some response about how its mission can deal with those two issues.

And the other one has to do with the panel on the sexual… the allegations of the child sexual abuse in CAR by Sangaris.  I wanted to know if the panel… I know you’re going to say they’re independent, but there’s a… whether they are, in fact, going to travel to the country to do any interviews.  And the reason I’m asking is, what is their budget?  Where does the budget of the panel come from?  And what is the budget of the panel?

Deputy Spokesman:  At this stage, they are free to go about their work as they see fit.  They will submit figures on their budget once they’ve completed their work.  At this stage, it’s a work in progress.  We don’t have nor do we ask for details about what their work is going to be.  They will complete it, and then they will inform us of what their work is.  So whether it includes travel on the ground or not, that’s their call, and it’s nothing that we would learn in advance.

Regarding the Amnesty International report, of course, we’re concerned about the situation there.  You’ll have seen what our own human rights officers on the ground have been saying about the situation, and it’s a tremendous cause for concern, both the displacements and the sort of inter-community and inter-ethnic and interreligious violence that there’s been.

Question:  Could I just… to understand the budget issue.  Obviously, they’re supposed to pay for it out of their own pocket and get reimbursed, or how is the actual work of the panel being paid for currently?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have different accounts that can deal with expenses, such as unforeseen expenditures, like new panels.  Regarding what specific accounting they will do, that… you know, that will become clearer as… you know, once they’ve gone about their work, so we’ll have to wait and see what they submit for their budget.

And with that, I will leave you in the hands of Ambassador Ogwu.  Oh, wait.  You have one more.  Yeah?

Question:  Just, again, on our friend from Sudan, is… do you know if the United States has issued a visa or, as they have done before, they just sort of wait till his… till the Assembly begins?

Deputy Spokesman:  At this stage, I don’t even know whether a formal request for a visa has been submitted, so that’s really an issue both for the Government of Sudan and the Government of the United States.

Have a good afternoon.

For information media. Not an official record.