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

11 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  My apologies for the delay.

**Central African Republic

Before you get a chance to ask, we want to let you know that we are very much aware of the latest very troubling allegations of abuse by peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, which were raised today by Amnesty International.  The Secretary-General is personally dismayed and disappointed, not just by these latest reports, but by the series of allegations that has surfaced in the Central African Republic mission in recent months — relating to both the period before UN peacekeepers were deployed in that country and since.

We would like to emphasize once more that no misconduct of this nature can be tolerated and that every allegation will be taken extremely seriously and investigated vigorously and thoroughly.  The Secretary-General is considering this situation as we speak, and I expect him to issue a statement or brief you personally on this subject a bit later.


On Libya, as we speak, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya, Bernardino León, is briefing the press in Geneva at the resumption of the Libya dialogue. That briefing will be available to you on the UN WebTV.  And as you know, Mr. León is in Geneva for a new round of Libyan political dialogue.  Participants are expected to discuss the annexes to the political agreement that was initialed in July.  And we will provide you with an update as we get them.


On Tuesday — that would be today — the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O'Brien, went to Amran in Yemen, where he met displaced communities and local authorities. He visited a food distribution centre and a school where over 50 displaced families from Sa'ada are living.  Speaking to the media in Sana'a on his return, the UN humanitarian chief said that despite all the challenges, UN agencies and their local partners are delivering supplies of food and water to displaced people in Amran.  But, the scale of what is needed is urgent and vastly greater.  Mr. O’Brien is scheduled to arrive in Aden tomorrow, by ship from Djibouti, where he is scheduled to meet senior representatives of the Government of Yemen and civil society.  And we’ll obviously update you on his travels as we get them.


From Iraq, the Acting Head of the UN Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), the Deputy Special Representative, Gyorgy Busztin, today welcomed Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s proposed reforms aimed at improving the lives of the Iraqi people, rationalizing state institutions and rooting out corruption.  He said that reforms that eliminate corruption, streamline State institutions, bring much needed expertise into Government, and improve service delivery to the people, will strengthen national unity and accelerate reconciliation at a time when all Iraqis need to combine their efforts to fight against terror.


And on an issue that was raised yesterday, the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, today called recent reports of children being sexually abused over a period of several years in Pakistan’s Kasur district appalling.  In a statement, Philippe Cori, UNICEF’s Regional Deputy Director for South Asia, said that UNICEF is in contact with Government authorities to understand the full dimension of the crime.  It stressed that it is vital that the children and families affected are immediately offered the necessary care and protection that will prevent further victimization and allow the difficult process of healing to begin.  More information on UNICEF’s website.


And our friends at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, otherwise known UNFCCC, said today that Australia has submitted its new climate action plan, making it the fifty-third country to submit its intended nationally determined contribution (INDC).  It said that Australia’s submission comes well in advance of a new universal climate change agreement that will be reached at the UN climate conference in Paris in December.  The Executive Secretary of the Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, is encouraging countries to come forward with their submissions as soon as they are able, underlining their commitment and support towards a successful outcome in Paris.


And our colleagues at WFP, the World Food Programme, said today that it is working with the Government of Myanmar, other UN agencies and local NGOs [non-governmental organizations] to provide emergency food assistance to some 435,000 people in the most flood-affected parts of the country.  A one-month supply of rice, chickpeas, cooking oil, salt, and in some cases, a one-week ration of high-energy biscuits is being provided.  So far, more than 213,000 people have been reached with food aid.


And in Geneva, our colleagues at the UN human rights office said that they are appalled by what they call the shockingly disproportionate prison terms handed down in recent months in lèse-majesté cases in Thailand.  On 7 August, the Bangkok Military Court sentenced one individual to 30 years in prison for violating the Criminal Code, and on the same day, the Chiang Mai Military Court handed a 28-year prison term to a worker for posting seven comments on a social media site.  And more is on the human rights office’s webpage.


And on Mali, [the Office of] the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights again says that it is deeply concerned at the reported release of detainees who were suspected of involvement in, or already formally charged with, serious crimes, including war crimes, terrorist acts and gross human rights violations.  The Office says that any measures which would de facto amount to an amnesty would be contrary to international law, and in violation of the commitment by the parties to the Peace and Reconciliation Agreement.  The human rights office emphasizes the critical importance of the fight against impunity and the need to investigate and prosecute all gross violations of human rights, to ensure accountability.

**Press Conference

Lastly, tomorrow, at 12:30 p.m., in this very room, you will be briefed by Ambassador Kaha Imnadze, Permanent Representative of Georgia to these United Nations.  Mr. Lee?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sure.  I hear what you're saying about… about… I mean, first, the announcement, but I did want to ask you a question since I'm not sure if the Secretary… will be able to get answered by the Secretary‑General.  And it has to do with this.  The allegation by Amnesty International is that this rape took place the day after peacekeepers were fired at in PK5.  So, it seems to smack of… not of sexual abuse and exploitation only, but also rape as a tool of war, as a weapon of war.  And I know that, in this room, Ms. [Zainab] Bangura said that her mandate doesn't cover UN peacekeepers.  And so, I wondered, is that something the Secretariat would reconsider given… at least in this case, if not other cases?

Spokesman:  What I referred to in my opening statement were troubling allegations of abuse, so abuse writ large.  Obviously, the Mission in Central African Republic has been looking into this, and we expect them to investigate the exact circumstances of these allegations thoroughly and quickly.  There are… we are talking about alleged… cases of alleged abuse or misconduct by UN peacekeepers, whether they be military or formed police units.  There are very clear procedures in place on how to investigate and deal with those issues.  Ms. Bangura's mandate is given to her by the Security Council.  We do expect the procedures already in place to be used to fully investigate and, if necessary, discipline those who have committed these alleged crimes.

Question:  If… if the Mission finds what Amnesty International alleges to be true, is the maximum UN penalty repatriation to the country of the peacekeeper?

Spokesman:  I think… we're… we're talking about hypotheticals here.  So, let me try to answer it without referring to the exact case.  Obviously, if a crime of this nature is committed by a military personnel, it is… it comes under one set of rules, and as we all know, the UN has no direct authority over the uniformed personnel.  That person would be repatriated, and we would expect them to face justice, be it military or civilian justice, in their home country and be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.  If it is a civilian person or if it is a police officer, my understanding is that that is different.  Obviously, the case… we would be in touch with the local authorities, and obviously, the authorities of which that person is… their nationality, so to speak.

Question:  And one last thing.  There was… it was said that the Secretary‑General was considering moving beyond sort of anonymity for countries and non‑disclosure of what actually happens.  Would this… can he say, without yet knowing what the Mission will decide, that, were they to find this to be true, that this would be the case to dispense with that?

Spokesman:  I would just refer… I don't think there's a change in policy.  I think I would refer you what the Secretary‑General said in his latest report -- would be that it is his intention to do so.

Question:  May I follow up?

Spokesman:  Yes, you may, if you use a microphone.

Question:  Stéphane, how many cases have there been now involving sexual abuse in the Central African Republic?  I think we're up to four or five.

Spokesman:  There have been… there have been a number of different cases.  I can try to get you the exact number.  Some of them, as we know, have involved international soldiers that are not operating under the UN flag.  Others have… as we have reported from here, do involve peacekeepers.  You know, I think the… as I said, the Secretary‑General is troubled by the series of allegations, not just this one, but the series that we've seen since the Mission was deployed and even before the Mission was deployed.

Question:  So, is this not prompting some… some thought about how the Mission is being run?  I mean… or is this normal?

Spokesman:  I think this is clearly not only not normal; it is not acceptable.  And as I said earlier, the Secretary‑General is considering the situation very seriously, and I expect that you will hear from him either in person, through a statement or through myself a bit later.  In the back and then you, Nizar.  Yes, ma'am?  Go ahead.

Question:  Can you tell us the reason of the meeting with the Argentine Foreign Minister and the Secretary‑General this morning?

Spokesman:  Sure.  It was at the request of the Argentinean… at the Argentinean Foreign Minister.  I expect a more official readout shortly.  A number of issues were discussed, among them the issue of debt restructuring and the resolution that is in front of the General Assembly currently.  But, we should have an official… hopefully, a bit longer readout for you shortly, as the meeting just ended.

[He later issued the following readout:  The Secretary-General met with H.E. Mr. Héctor Timerman, Foreign Minister of Argentina.  They discussed Argentina’s debt and the implications of the Argentine case for sovereign debt restructuring efforts.  They also considered the draft resolution on the Basic Principles on Sovereign Debt Restructuring Processes which will be subject to vote by the General Assembly in September.  The Secretary-General expressed appreciation for the Government of Argentina’s leadership on this matter and the continued support to the United Nations.]

Nizar and then we'll come…

Question:  Today, there was another aerial attack by Saudis against Mazraq refugee camps in Hajjah Governorate in the north close to Saudi Arabia.  Was Mr.…?

Spokesman:  I'm sorry.  Can you… start again.

Question:  If you remember, at the beginning of the conflict in Yemen, there was an attack at Mazraq, the refugee camp, which is close to the Saudi border in Hajjah Governorate.  And today there was another attack.  In that previous one, 40 people perished.  This one, still there are many casualties, but we don't have the figures.  Since Mr. O'Brien is there, is he going to visit that area in particular?

Spokesman:  I think Mr. O'Brien's movements are somewhat limited due to the lack of a humanitarian pause, and that pause, of course, limits his own movement but, much more importantly, limits the ability of the UN and its partners on the ground to deliver aid.  He will be in Aden tomorrow.  I don't believe he will go anywhere beyond Aden tomorrow.  And we are… we will have him brief you directly either by phone or probably, more likely, when he gets back to New York shortly.

Question:  In Aden, of course, there were stories about looting of northerners' houses, killing of peddlers in the streets by the… these new coalition soldiers, which were offloaded from the ships there.  Is there anybody investigating that or looking into this?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen those exact reports, but clearly, the ongoing conflict is leading to a clear loss of life on civilians, who are once again bearing the brunt of the fighting.  Nizar.

Question:  I'm sorry.  Just a follow-up on that.  And Djibouti remains the main hub for humanitarian aid?

Spokesman:  It is where the UN is storing most of its humanitarian aid, which is then transported by ship.  If I’m not mistaken, there are some flights going in, but given the current status of the fighting and the vast needs, planes alone won't do it.  And that's why we're using ships.

Question:  I understand we may hear more about CAR [Central African Republic] later today, but can you confirm… there's been some question about whether the UN investigators have, in fact, even gone to the area where this is alleged to have taken place.  In PK5, obviously, there was some shooting there that resulted in deaths of peacekeepers.  And also, just to clarify, on the statement, are you expecting a statement from Ban Ki‑moon, or are we going to hear from him personally?

Spokesman:  There are two options.  Either you'll hear from him or you'll get a statement.  No, I don't mean to… I just… I'll try to… as soon as I know which it will be, I will let you know.  As to whether or not people in the Mission themselves have gone to PK5, I can't answer that from here.  We can try to get an answer from the Mission itself, but we do expect the Mission to investigate this rather thoroughly. Yes?

Question:  Going back to the allegation, do you have information regarding how this came out, I mean, how was this discovered and how many people are involved in it?

Spokesman:  Are you talking about the Central African Republic?

Correspondent:  Yes.

Spokesman:  No.  What I can tell you is I know our colleagues in the Mission were in touch… were contacted by Amnesty International last week.  They were in touch, so we would expect to have them already have been looking into this last week.  Obviously, they're continuing to investigate.  I don't have any more operational details from here. Yes, and then Dulcie?

Question:  Back to Yemen.  Is Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh [Ahmed] going to brief the Council in New York or…?

Spokesman:  You know, that was… as of yesterday, he was either going to be in person or going to do it by video conference.  I have not gotten an update.  It kind of depends on his… on his travel schedule and whether he thinks he's… it's better for him to be staying in the region and continuing the talks as opposed to, you know, losing a couple of days by travelling to New York.

Question:  And where is he now?

Spokesman:  I believe he is back in Riyadh, but I will double check for you.  Yes?  And then Oleg.

Question:  So, the response from Ban Ki‑moon today about the allegations of rape in the Central African Republic, will that include an update on the investigation by the French Government into their soldiers?

Spokesman:  No.  No.  The French Government is conducting its investigation.  Their judicial… is doing it independently from us.  I mean, they're going on their own calendar.  It's their investigation.  I don't think the Secretary‑General or us have an update of where that process is going.

Question:  But, can you get an update?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, I think the way the judicial system in France works, and I'm trying not to speak here in my own national capacity, but there's an investigation -- investigative judge goes about his work.  It is not for us to ask for an update or one would be given.  When the investigation is over, we will be informed.  But, they are obviously fully seized of the matter, as we say here.  Oleg?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On Ferguson, any response to what happened last night… last day?

Spokesman:  You know, obviously, I think the Secretary‑General spoke about Ferguson a year ago, when the events happened.  I think it's important that people be able to protest peacefully, and it is important that whatever response there is from the law… that law enforcement protects people, but it also allows people to protest peacefully.

Correspondent:  As a follow‑up on that, probably you have already heard there were two journalists a couple of months ago jailed over there, charged over there.  Now they're being presented some charges like interfering with the work of police, two of them…

Spokesman:  I have not seen… I have not seen those reports.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Stéphane, on Burundi, we heard yesterday that the Secretary‑General plans to send someone.  Can you give us details?

Spokesman:  Indeed.  And no.  As we've said, yes, the Secretary‑General is considering naming and sending an envoy.  When I have a name and a date to share with you, I promise to share it.  But, I can't share it with you right now.

Question:  Can I just follow up on Burundi?  Ivan Šimonović in his presentation apparently raised the issue of a risk of mass atrocities in Burundi.  I was wondering if that was the UN assessment…?

Spokesman:  The risk of severe violence, of a spiraling out of control of the situation in Burundi is, indeed, very real.

Question:  On the new attribution mechanism on the chemical weapons in Syria, has the [Secretary-General] taken any steps…?

Spokesman:  Yes, I mean, the clock started ticking when the resolution was unanimously approved.  We're working on it.  We have 20 days.  Work is under way.

Question:  And is he discussing this with the Syrian Government?

Spokesman:  Right now, the first step is to have discussions with the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] and have… come up with terms of reference for this mechanism.  I think, as the resolution stated, that the Syrian Government has already stated its… one would expect the Syrian Government and all Governments, in fact, to respect and abide by the Security Council resolution.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Quick follow‑up on Burundi and then something on South Sudan.  The President of the Council yesterday called the naming of this envoy to Burundi imminent in order to keep the momentum going, which would seem to… probably come from Tayé Brook Zerihoun.  Does the Secretary‑General feel the same imminence and…?

Spokesman:  Yes, I think…  We can debate on the meaning of words.  I would say imminent would probably not be a bad choice of words.

Question:  Okay.  On South Sudan, there are two things.  One is, there's a report that Fiji is considering pulling its peacekeepers out due to the unraveling in the country, and there's also these two generals or one of whom was sanctioned, Peter Gadet and Mr. [Gathoth] Gatkuoth, who have broken away from the Riek Machar forces now and say that, even if peace is reached, they will continue to fight.  So what is… what is… does the UN have any response to that?  Does this make things more difficult to solve and…

Spokesman:  Well, I think…

Question:  …how would the Fijians be replaced?

Spokesman:  The Fijians, I don't know.  I can check.  I think on the unraveling of the opposition, it's clear that every day that goes by without a political agreement makes the situation that much more complicated to solve.  The Secretary‑General, as he said, very much hopes that a deal will be reached later this month through the IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development] process, but this continued fighting, the continued lawlessness makes it that much more difficult to reach a deal, but we very much hope that, once a deal is reached, that all the parties involved will live up to their obligations.  Yes?

Question:  Today, the health authorities in Yemen appealed for the world to help in bringing in medicine, because hospitals have nothing left.  Are there any plans to deliver any medicine…?

Spokesman:  We echo and we've been echoing that plea, not only medicine, but food, all sorts of humanitarian supplies.  We've talked here about the devastation of the health system in Yemen, the destruction of hospitals, of emergency rooms, and obviously, the lack of supplies.  We echo that call.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Okay.  Interns, Australia and wires.  I'm sure you've seen this story about the New Zealand intern at the UN in Geneva living in a tent.  I want to ask sort of a more fundamental question, which is that what would the UN say to those who say that by having so many entirely unpaid internship, it basically, it… it limits this possible career step of learning to only the most affluent people…?

Spokesman:  I think it's a very valid point.  The debate around the payment of interns is one that's been going on for some time.  We are not in a position to pay our interns.  It's too bad in a way, because I think it does limit the opportunity to those who are able to pay their own way and house themselves.  Unless the General Assembly changes those rules, there is no change in sight.  What's important is that any internship be used as a learning opportunity for the intern and not be used as, you know, as free labour or as a substitute for work done by staff.

Question:  Okay.  And is it… is that something that the Secretary‑General has ever raised to the GA [General Assembly] or…?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of that.

Question:  Okay.  And I wanted… I may have missed it in your… in the statement about the countries coming out with their climate change targets, but Australia came out with one.  It's sort of become a touchstone of… many people are saying it doesn't… it wouldn't… in no way is it 2°C…

Spokesman:  No, I think… I did mention Australia came out with it.  I think all of the INDCs… first of all, we very much welcome countries that issue their INDC.  It's an important step, and we very much hope that all Member States will do so.  They really need to be seen as a floor and not a ceiling.  They're a starting point.  There will be discussions prior to Paris.  There will, obviously, be discussions in Paris.  People are free to, obviously, express their opinion on certain countries' INDCs, but for our part, we're glad we have them, and we do see them as a starting point in the discussions.


Question:  And the wire issue?

Spokesman:  The wires, my understanding is that holes need to be drilled.  They need to go through floors and ceilings… and speaking of floors and ceilings but not virtual ones, actual real ones.  So, I beg all of your patience.  It's going to take a little bit of time, but a drill needs to be had.  Power tools need to be used.

Question:  It will be done?

Spokesman:  It will be done.

For information media. Not an official record.