14 March 2016

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.


The Secretary-General this morning addressed the opening of the sixtieth session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).  That took place in the General Assembly.  Speaking, the Secretary-General stressed that as long as one woman’s human rights are violated, our struggle is not over.  He said that he has travelled to some of the harshest places on earth for women in his nine years as Secretary-General.  Sometimes in the toughest conditions you find the strongest heroines, he said.

The Secretary-General said that the world is full of inequalities and injustices for women and girls, and called on Governments, businesses and others to step up for gender equality, which, he added, demands nothing less than full respect for the human rights of women and girls everywhere.  The head of UN-Women also addressed the meeting, saying that the sixtieth session marks the beginning of the countdown to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  She added that “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to end poverty and transform gender relations” is in our hands today.  Both of those sets of remarks are available, should you want them.


As you will have seen, Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, convened talks among the Syrian parties in Geneva today and he spoke to the press, noting that the talks are taking place while the fragile cessation of hostilities has been holding. He said that there continues to be distance between the sides, so he has been proceeding with proximity talks, as he has done previously. He hopes over time to hold direct negotiations, as well.  The Special Envoy said he was meeting today with the Syrian Government delegation and had met yesterday with the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board.  He also had courtesy meetings yesterday with both the Government and High Negotiations Committee delegations.

Mr. de Mistura said he expects that spoilers will try to upset the talks. But he added that, if during these talks, he doesn’t see any willingness to negotiate, he will go back and bring the issue back to those who have influence:  namely Russia, the United States and the Security Council.  He said that he will brief the Security Council this afternoon via VTC (video teleconference0 in closed consultations.  That should take place, I think, around 4 p.m., our time, in New York.


A couple of updates from Iraq:  the military operations in Iraq’s Anbar Governorate have displaced around 35,000 people since 11 March.  People are fleeing areas in the centre of the Governorate, including Kabissa, Heet, Al-Asriya village and Al-Saghriya village, and moving to areas west of Ramadi, in search of safety.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that most people have reportedly fled with few belongings and need shelter, basic household items, food and water.  More than 12,000 of those people have received humanitarian aid as of yesterday.

Overall, approximately 53,500 people have been displaced in Anbar since military operations began at the end of December.  With funding insufficient to meet more than the basic needs of people, most of the displaced are being hosted in overcrowded camps and temporary settlements in the eastern part of Anbar province.  The United Nations and our partners have now appealed for $861 million to provide emergency relief in 2016.  As of now, only 9 per cent has been funded:  that equals to about $74 million.


As you will have seen over the weekend, our colleagues at the UN Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) issued a press release saying that a peacekeeper in the UN Peacekeeping Tessalit camp fired at three of his colleagues on Saturday night.  Two peacekeepers were killed, the other was injured.  An investigation is underway to determine the circumstances of this incident.


According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, armed conflict that erupted in early February in Myanmar’s northern Shan State has displaced an estimated 4,200 people in the area — and that is according to State authorities and local civil society organizations.  Our humanitarian colleagues are following up with local partners for more information.  State authorities, local groups, the Myanmar Red Cross Society, as well as the UN and international NGOs [non-governmental organizations], have provided relief items and services at displacement sites.  Early recovery support will be needed to help some returning families rebuild their homes and livelihoods once the security situation allows it.

**Viet Nam

Also on the humanitarian front, our colleagues in Viet Nam have warned that severe drought and salt intrusion in the Mekong Delta is affecting 39 out of 63 provinces in Vietnam.  As of 10 March, an estimated 195,200 families did not have sufficient water supply to meet their daily needs.  Some 10 provinces have declared a state of emergency.  According to the authorities, 159,000 hectares of rice paddy have also been lost, amounting to an economic loss of more than $10 million.  An additional 500,000 hectares are at risk of being lost by the middle of this year.


The fifty-ninth session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs opened today at UN headquarters in Vienna.  Speaking at the session’s opening, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Yury Fedotov said the Commission’s work was promoting a comprehensive understanding of the world drug problem and the need to put people first.  The fifty-ninth Session of the Commission brings together around 1,500 delegates representing Member States, inter-governmental organizations and civil society for a global discussion on the world drug problem.


Just a recap from the weekend of our busy time:  we issued a statement yesterday, as you will recall, where the Secretary-General condemned the terrorist attack in Ankara earlier that day, which had killed and wounded dozens of people.  The United Nations continues to support and stand in solidarity with the people and the Government of Turkey at this trying time.

In a separate statement, we also condemned the terrorist attacks carried out in three hotels in the town of Grand Bassam, Côte d'Ivoire, in which at least 14 civilians were killed and many others injured.  And in a separate statement, the Security Council also issued a statement condemning the attack.  Unfortunately we learned this morning that one civilian personnel from the peacekeeping mission, ONUCI, in Côte d'Ivoire, a UN Volunteer, was among the fatalities. In addition a UN police officer serving with ONUCI was wounded yesterday and her condition is reported as stable.

And also, we issued a readout following the Secretary-General’s meeting on Friday with Ms. Gil Won-ok, one of the victims who were drafted by Japan as so-called “comfort women” during the Second World War.  After the meeting, the Secretary-General said that he had shared his sympathy with her about the suffering and pain that she and other victims have experienced, adding that it is crucial that the voices of victims and survivors are heard.  Finally, we also issued a statement welcoming the adoption of resolution 2272 (2016) on preventing and combating sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers.

**Honour Roll

Today we thank our friends in the Philippines, who paid their regular budget dues in full, making it the fiftieth Member State to do so.

**Press Encounters

Tomorrow, bring your pencils, you will be busy.  At 11 a.m., there will be a briefing sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Ireland and featuring women activists from the Middle East to brief on current peace efforts in that region.  I will have a guest at noon; that will be Nicholas Haysom, the Head of the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).  At 2 p.m., press conference on the appointment of actress Ashley Judd as the UN Population Fund’s (UNFPA) Goodwill Ambassador.  Ms. Judd will be joined by UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde [Osotimehin].  And at 2:45 p.m., there will be a briefing by the European Union Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Vĕra Jourová.  Michele?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  A question on Iran, please.  This morning, several Council members said that they would like the Secretariat to do a special report on these recent missile tests by Iran.  Some Council members think it should just be included in the six-monthly report, which I believe is due in July.  Does the Secretary‑General plan to conduct a separate investigation into these missile launches, or will he just include this in the July report?

Spokesman:  Well, obviously, should we get a request from the Presidency of the Council to brief, we will do so, as we would on any issue.  I have not heard, as of an hour ago, that there would be anything otherwise than the regular briefing.  But, again, should a request come from the Council to brief, we would obviously brief.

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Spokesman:  We would wait for a request from the Council.  Yes, sir?

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Spokesman:  I need a microphone.  Or you need a microphone.  No, I have one.

Question:  On the refugees, I know the UN objected to the deal between EU [European Union] and Turkey.  Do you have any more updates on that?

Spokesman:  No, I think the… both the High Commissioner for Refugees, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and I believe UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] expressed their concern that the de… that the agreement reached was… would not be in full respect of the rights of refugees and migrants as they stand.  We're obviously taking a closer look at the agreement itself but nothing to add to what we've said last week.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Couple things, but I wanted to ask you about South Sudan again.  Received a… an email among NGOs there that in Akobo in Jonglei State, there had been an 800 per cent increase in revenge killings and that several NGO staff have gone into hiding but haven't seen anything from UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] about this.  And I'm wondering, what is… I understand, I guess, UNMISS doesn't report on some of the fighting, deferring to some website you've cited, but when actually humanitarian workers are as… as… as frightened as this email shows, what is UNMISS doing?

Spokesman:  Well, I'm happy to look into the issue.  I have not received any reports from UNMISS.

Question:  Okay.  Could I… I… you ready for more?  Okay.  Great.  I wanted to ask you, this goes back to the John Ashe case.  I've been reviewing the… the… you know, the… the charge sheet, and… and seemed like an opportune time to ask the following:  Which is that it describes in some detail the… the purchase of a document from the UN Secretariat.  It describes Mr. [Francis] Lorenzo paying John Ashe to inquire with an official, known as UN official… “UN Secretariat Official Number One”, to reissue a document about the Macau Conference Centre with the name of Mr. Ng Lap Seng's company in it and the notation that it was revised for technical reasons.  And since this was filed in October, I wanted you to state, has the Secretariat, totally outside of this audit, which we don't know when it's going to be finished, determined who the individual was that's referred to and what's been done in that case?

Spokesman:  I have no comments on the particulars of the case.  What I can tell you is that the audit, both ours and UNDP's [United Nations Development Programme], should be done shortly and I know will be made public.

Correspondent:  But, I guess what I'm say… given… given that this… it describes in great detail, gives the date of the e-mail, would be incredibly easy for the UN to determine who it was that…

Spokesman:  As I said, there's an audit being conducted looking into the issue.  If there's anything that needs to come out of it and further investigation, it will be done.

Correspondent:  The way I've heard the audit described is it's the interface of two NGOs with the UN system, whereas this describes John Ashe calling…


Spokesman:  Matthew, I hear what you're saying, and I'm trying to get you to listen to what I'm saying.  So, that's it.

Correspondent:  I am listening.  I don't understand… but I just don't understand how…

Spokesman:  I'm telling… I've given you an answer.  Okay.  Yes, sir?

Question:  On Iran lately on the presidential candidates, Republicans and Democrats are pushing the idea that US is giving millions of dollars to Iran.  Don't you think it's a UN responsibility to comment… lead some light on the situation that the monies going to Iran, it's part of the money under the sanction that confiscated in the West Bank in… banks in the West and only portion of that money is actually going to Iran, which is actually belong to Iranians?  That's one.  And then what happens to the interests of that money which has been held by the US and by UN?

Spokesman:  You know, from what I understand, the release of the frozen assets is part also of the agreement that was signed between… you know, that was agreed to between Iran and the P5+1.  It's not for me to kind of comment on the mechanics of how these assets are unfrozen and what kind of funds are transferred.  Agreements were reached.  Sanctions were lifted.  It now really becomes a bilateral issue for both countries to raise if there is a problem.

Correspondent:  But, they're showing it somewhat as a handout to Iranians when actually that money belongs to Iranians.

Spokesman:  People have different opinions and perceptions.  It's not for me to comment.  Yes, sir?

Correspondent:  I'm sorry.  The UN knows that money belongs to Iranians, which… 

Spokesman:  As I said, this is an issue… once the sanctions are lifted and the assets are frozen, it becomes a bilateral issue between Iran and whatever country was holding the assets to deal with the issue in a way that's mutually acceptable to both parties.  Yeah and then Michele.  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Following the election results in Germany, it seems like an appropriate time to ask if you have the latest figures on migrants to Europe and how many of them are from Syria versus elsewhere?

Spokesman:  We can ask UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] to see what the latest figures they have.  Michele?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Does the Secretary‑General have any re… comment on the EU decision to suspend direct aid to Burundi?

Spokesman:  I think it's a decision that's… it's the EU's decision to make.  Obviously, the issue… the situation in Burundi continues to be of concern to us, including the human rights decision.  We hope that the momentum that was created by this… sorry.  If it's an instant interpretation of what I'm saying to Japanese, I'd be interested.  I think the… we do hope that the momentum that was created by the Secretary‑General's recent visit is built upon.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Something on Burundi, Yemen, Ethiopia and UN press.  On Burundi, there are these camps there that have actually had people… IDP [internally displaced person] camps inside the country, one of which is called Mutaho, where people… there are published reports, Radio Republique Africaine and elsewhere, that they're being… people in the camps are being accused of being supporters of the anti‑Pierre Nkurunziza movement.  They're being searched for weapons.  Some have now fled these camps.  I wanted to know, are these camps… does the UN have any role, does the UN system, IOM [International Organization for Migration] or UNHCR have any role?

Spokesman:  I will check with UNHCR.

Question:  I wanted to ask you, on Yemen, there are obviously a lot of reports now that the Saudis are negotiating directly with the Houthis.  This was referred to by some degree by John Kerry in his visit to Saudi Arabia over the weekend.  Where is the envoy?  Is the envoy part of this?  Is this outside the envoy…

Spokesman:  We referred to it, as well, on Thursday or Friday where this is something that the envoy welcomes and has been encouraging for some time.

Question:  Okay.  And I'd asked… I can't remember if it was you or Farhan [Haq], because I didn't get an answer from either, having to do with Ethiopia.  And there was a widely circulated photograph, not of the Oromo protest, but actually of the Surma tribesmen locked up as a… in a chain gang fashion.  And their land is being taken.  It's a pretty disturbing photo.  Farhan, I think, said he would look into it.  I wanted to know, has your office looked into it, and what does the UN…?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen anything, but I will try to get something.

Question:  Okay.  Finally, I saw… I saw you [carbon copied] on this, so it seems like a fair question to you.  I saw a letter from the ACANU, or the Geneva press association of correspondents, directed to Mr… Mr. de Mistura and [carbon copied] to you, protesting that he announced a delay… initial delay in the Syria talks in an exclusive interview.  And I saw him this morning very early say that he's not going to do any exclusive interviews between 14 and 24 March, sort of as an accommodation.  I guess I wanted to know, what is the UN's policy in terms of both the Secretary‑General or a news-maker like de Mistura giving… ACANU seemed to say very clearly this information should be given to all correspondents at the same time.  Do you agree with that?

Spokesman:  No, Mr. de Mistura is a seasoned diplomat.  He chooses to… he deftly handles the media, and he will do whatever he feels he needs to do.  There is no policy per se on any of these issues that you raised.

Question:  But, related to that, there's… related to that, I noticed today, having attended now two photo ops, that there's a… clearly either an interview or some kind of a documentary or something larger from Phoenix TV with the Secretary‑General.  And I wanted to know, seemed to be that, in some of these incidents, the… the crew that's following Ban Ki‑moon's every movement today is given rights greater than journalists that are just photographing.

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  Okay.  What… so who decides that?  What exactly…?

Spokesman:  Matthew, I'm not…

Correspondent:  I'm asking.

Spokesman:  You know, there is… I think most journalists would expect someone in my position not to share what projects or interviews they're doing on.  It is our decision to decide what interviews to grant, what documentary filmmakers to work with, one way or another.  That's it.  It's our decision.  I mean, I don't… it's not something for discussion.  We don't share…

Question:  My question's what's the right of normal… of regular non‑resident correspondent journalists to go to photo ops?  Because I went to a photo op today and I was told by security to be nice, and I think it's inappropriate.  Isn't that inappropriate?

Spokesman:  I think it's always nice to be nice…

Question:  Yeah, but why am I told not to be nice and these guys are in the residence?

Spokesman:  I'm done.  Yes. 

Correspondent:  Thank you, Steph.

Spokesman:  I'm always told to be nice. 

Correspondent:  Thank you, Steph.

Spokesman:  Go ahead.  I'm trying to be nice. [Laughter]

Question:  On that note of being nice, I have a question regarding Iran.  I know the SG [Secretary-General] has made a statement about the ballistic missile launches, but I was wondering if he's reached out personally to the President of Iran or any Iranian officials.  And another side of that is, given… I gather the phrase that was on one of the missiles calling for the wiping out of Israel, I wonder there, too, if he's had any contact with Israeli officials.

Spokesman:  He's had contact with… he met with the Israeli Permanent Representative, I think, on Friday, if I'm not mistaken.  There's been no contact between the Secretary‑General and Iranian authorities that I'm aware of.  But, obviously, I would refer you back also to the statement we made at the time of the ballistic missiles, and I think the Secretary‑General has repeatedly called, you know, the language where one country calls for the wiping out of another unacceptable.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  About Syria, any latest update about the delivery of humanitarian aid to the besieged areas?  And also what is the Secretary‑General's comment about starting of the talks today in Geneva? Spokesman:  Well, obviously, the Secretary‑General's very pleased that we've gotten to where we are, where the talks are restarting.  And he very much hopes to see progress and, of course, fully backs the effort of Mr. de Mistura.  On humanitarian aid, I can tell you that, unfortunately, the planned convoys to Madaya, Zabadani, Foah and Kafraya had to be postponed due to security considerations.  The planned deliveries will be rescheduled as soon as the security permits it.  Since the beginning of the year, some 238,000 people have been reached with supplies, including food, health, nutrition and other items through interagency convoys in hard‑to‑reach and besieged areas.  But, that's out of, I think, more than 4.5 million people who need aid.  So, it's clearly not enough, and we need to have… we continue to need to see better access.  Mr. Charbonneau?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Over the weekend, there were new… there were protests about… in Rabat about the SG's perceived new position on Western Sahara.  Has there been any new communication between the SG and the Moroccan Government since he returned?  There was a new statement sent out by the Moroccan Mission last week.  So, I wondered if there's anything new to say…?

Spokesman:  There's been quite a lot of contact between the UN and the Moroccan authorities.  And that will, I'm sure, continue throughout the day.  There is no new position from the Secretary‑General.  The Secretary‑General is acting and continues and has been acting in accordance with the Security Council mandate to facilitate negotiations aimed at "a mutually acceptable political solution which will provide for the self‑determination for the people of Western Sahara".  He will continue to work to facilitate those negotiations, because he believes that such a solution is in the interest of all the region's people.  He and his personal envoy will work with all relevant political actors, including the Kingdom of Morocco.  And, obviously, he did very much… we're very much aware of the protests.  The Secretary‑General will be the first to acknowledge that there's been a difference of opinion on the Western Sahara issue, but he continues to believe that, after 40 years, it is important to resolve this long‑standing dispute and open the way to the return of the Sahrawi people, to refugees, to their homes.  To this end, he called for genuine negotiations in good faith and without preconditions at each stop of his recent trip.  We again reiterate the call.  I will leave it at that.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Follow‑up on that.  Has there been a request by Morocco's Foreign Minister to meet with the Secretary‑General this week?

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  And will that be an open photo op?

Spokesman:  The meeting is still… we're still working on the scheduling of the meeting.  Obviously, it will be a photo op, as it is usually with every Foreign Minister that comes to town.  Thank you all.  Enjoy what remains of the day.

For information media. Not an official record.