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

31 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.

**Central African Republic

Good morning. Let me start with the situation in the Central African Republic and let me say at the outset that the Secretary-General is shocked to the core at the latest allegations of abuse in the Central African Republic.  His focus is on the victims and their families. We are talking about women, young children who have been traumatized in the worst imaginable way.  Yesterday, the Central African Republic inaugurated a new democratically elected President, marking the end of the transition period.  The interventions of the international community helped save the Central African Republic from an unspeakable fate.  Yet, we must face the fact that a number of troops who were sent to protect people instead acted with hearts of darkness.

These crimes fester in silence.  That is why the Secretary-General is shining a spotlight on these despicable, depraved and deeply disturbing allegations.  He has been unrelenting in confronting this scourge and raising it proactively at every opportunity.  This constant and loud advocacy must be matched by the actions of Member States who alone have the power to discipline their forces with real consequences.  This is essential to restoring trust in the invaluable institution of peacekeeping and — even more importantly — to provide full measures of justice and healing to the affected communities.

And just to go back on the facts as we have them so far – and that we made available to you last night:  As you recall, on Friday, 25 March, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) announced that it had received new allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse that had taken place between 2013 and 2015 by UN and non-UN personnel, as well as local armed groups, in the Kemo prefecture of the country. I then gave further details to you on Monday, on 28 March.

Also the High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein this morning described the latest allegations as “sickening,” and said that major efforts were already underway to investigate [allegations].  He also said that it was vital that the victims are protected and receive all necessary care.  As we told you, a MINUSCA-led integrated team made up of staffers from the Office of Internal Oversight [Services] (OIOS), Human Rights, Child and Women’s Protection, Conduct and Discipline, as well as UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund], UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] and UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] travelled to the area and are now on the ground.

The exact number and nature of these extremely troubling allegations are still being determined. The team has identified the contingents in question as being provided by Burundi and Gabon.  Allegations made against the French Sangaris forces in the same area are also being investigated. Alleged victims are being interviewed and will be provided with assistance and psycho-social and medical support.  The Burundian and Gabonese units allegedly involved will remain confined in camps during the investigation, except for essential tasks.

The United Nations has formally notified the Troop-contributing countries in question, as well as [to] the French authorities, informing them of the allegations.  The troop-contributing countries have been requested to send investigators immediately to participate jointly in the ongoing investigation.  The Under Secretary-General for Field Support, Atul Khare, met with the Permanent Representative of Burundi on Wednesday.  And a meeting with representatives of Gabon will take place as soon as possible.  The Central African Republic authorities have been formally notified by our UN colleagues in Bangui.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights said that States to whom these troops belong must do more to stop the abuse happening, to punish those committing these acts with appropriate sentences, and prevent further violations.  The High Commissioner has also formally notified the French authorities via the French Permanent Mission in Geneva.  And as we told you earlier, the Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, Hervé Ladsous, is in Bangui where he also raised these allegations with French officials who are there.

And finally, just to flag that the Security Council is being briefed on the issue and other matters by Atul Khare, I believe, shortly, or as we speak.  And just a political update on the situation in the Central African Republic, the Mission also reports that the legislative run-off elections are taking place in 85 constituencies today amidst an overall calm atmosphere in the country.  The Mission is continuing to provide logistical and security support to the electoral process.  The Mission is, however, monitoring developments in Obo (Haute-Mbomou), Birao (Vakaga) and Bouar (Nana-Mambéré), where minor incidents involving supporters of political opponents have been reported.

**Secretary-General in Washington, D.C.

And the Secretary-General is scheduled to arrive in Washington later today in Washington, where he will attend a working dinner this evening at the White House hosted by President Barack Obama, this is for the Nuclear Summit.  The Secretary-General intends to highlight some specific areas on the Nuclear Security Agenda, such as the necessity to sustain high-level political momentum, the nexus between nuclear terrorism and cyber security, and the urgent need to bridge the gap on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

Tomorrow, 1 April, the Secretary-General will participate at the High-Level Nuclear Security Summit, where he will once again bring attention to the vital role the UN can play in thwarting the threats posed by the growing ability of terrorist networks to acquire weapons of mass destruction, as well as the ability of organizations to promptly respond to any serious emergency involving the use of weapons of mass destruction.

**South Sudan

And back here, the Security Council discussed the situation in South Sudan this morning.  Stephen O’Brien, the UN’s Humanitarian Chief, said that civilians continued to be targeted, attacked and displaced and that acute humanitarian needs persist. He said that humanitarians need a timely, unimpeded access to those in need, not ad hoc, case by case considerations.  He also noted that despite challenges, humanitarians reached more than one million people in the first two months of 2016 and continued to find innovative ways to saves lives, even in areas where formal access is not granted.  But, he said that there was acritical lack of funding — with only 9 per cent funded of the $1.3 billion required for humanitarian assistance. 

On the human rights situation, Kate Gilmore, the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, also briefed the Council and said that despite the August 2015 peace agreement, human rights violations and abuses against civilians continue unabated.  She added that there was a new and alarming spread of violence and insecurity in areas previously less affected by the conflict, such as Western Equatoria.

And the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for South Sudan, Ellen Margrethe Løj, also told the Council this morning that sustained progress in the country will require that both parties form the transitional government without further delay and demonstrate the courage to compromise for the sake of peace.  Most importantly, she said, it will require that South Sudan’s leaders begin to put their people first.

**Security Council

And as you know, also this morning, the Council adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the panel experts assisting the Libya’ Sanctions Committee, till July of next year.  The also adopted a presidential statement on the implementation on the peace, security and cooperation framework on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region before starting their meetings on the South Sudan. 


And also just to give you an update on the humanitarian situation in Libya:  The U.N. and its partners are delivering life-saving medical, food, protection, and water and sanitation assistance throughout the country. Moreover, essential medicines and medical supplies have been donated to Libyan hospitals and health clinics, benefiting up to one million people.  Up to 180,000 people, primarily those internally displaced, are also receiving food assistance.  Over 30,000 people have received basic assistance supplies since November of last year.

However, the humanitarian coordinator for Libya, Ali al-Za’tari, calls on the international community to provide to provide more financial resources to help more people in need in the country. So far only $18 million of the $166 million for humanitarian response for this year in Libya has been received and as a result, food and medicine stocks are currently running low.  More information online.


On Somalia, aid organizations today launched a Call for Aid seeking $105 million to scale-up critical, life-saving assistance, as well as help build resilience for more than 1 million people in the drought-affected northern regions of the country.  The severe drought, exacerbated by El Niño [conditions], which is affecting parts of Puntland and Somaliland, has compounded an already challenging humanitarian situation. An estimated 1.7 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and livelihood support.


And the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović, has just finished a four-day visit to Moldova, where, he said, that the country faces very serious challenges due to deep internal divisions, widespread corruption and governance issues.  At the same time, he said, 2016 begins with possibilities for change for the Moldovan people.  After many months, a new Government has been formed and the Parliament is about to adopt a law which would require that 40 per cent of Parliamentarians to be women, as well as other measures to advance the rights of women.  Šimonović stressed the willingness of the High Commissioner’s Office and the entire UN family to remain engaged and deepen its involvement in Moldova.  More information online.


You may have seen it yesterday, we issued a statement from the Secretary-General welcoming the announcement of the launching of peace talks between the Government of Colombia and the National Liberation Army, ELN, following the signing of an agreement between the parties.



And we also issued a statement yesterday in which the Secretary-General congratulated the new President of the Republic of Myanmar and welcomed the peaceful transfer of power as testament to the people of Myanmar’s commitment to democracy. 

**Press Conference

Press conference tomorrow — 5 p.m., the incoming President of the Security Council, the Permanent Representative of China, will be here to brief you on the programme of work — 5 p.m. in this room.

**Honour Roll

And today, we thank Andorra, for paying its budget in full which brings it up to… 60.  Go ahead…

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  This morning, the Ambassador of Morocco made a declaration to the press, and he talked about a letter that was leaked, a letter from the SG to Morocco.  What was this letter about?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of any… well, there was a letter, a personal letter, that was sent to the King of Morocco by the Secretary‑General.  I'm not aware of any leaks, and it is a personal letter.  Yes, ma'am.

Question:  Stéphane, on the latest sexual abuse allegations, is the Secretary‑General planning any… considering any further steps to address this?  There were some suggestion that he might be dispatching envoys to countries where there have been repeat offences or allegations.

Spokesman:  You know, obviously, a number of steps are being considered. There needs to be a strong message sent to troop-contributing countries to ensure that all these allegations are promptly investigated. What we're going to do for the first time is jointly investigate with the troop-contributing countries at this point — Gabon and Burundi these latest allegations.  Obviously, the Secretary‑General will be speaking to Member States as soon as he can to bring… to bring this to their attention directly.  Our focus at this very moment is on continuing to interview the victims.  So far, 108 alleged victims have been interviewed in the area.  We're trying to ascertain the facts and trying to give as much support, medical and psychosocial support, to the victims.  UNICEF has been… is in the lead on that it.  They have… they have identified monies that will be spent on… on helping the victims, regardless of who may have committed crimes against them.  Go ahead.

Question:  How many of the 108 are minors, do you know?

Spokesman:  The vast… the vast majority… the majority I have my… well, you know what?  Let me just double check.  Yes, the vast majority of the cases, unfortunately, do involve minors.  Edie.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane. I know you said in the statement in the note to correspondents that the nature of the crimes of the allegations is still under investigation, but I'm sure, as you know, the AIDS Free World said that… gave one example of bestiality and I wonder if there were allegations… any allegations of bestiality among the 108 cases?

Spokesman:  You know, the… the… at this point, these are allegations.  We're interviewing as many victims as… alleged victims as… as possible with the greatest possible care so as not to traumatize these young people a second time.  The facts have not yet been completely ascertained. The allegations concerning Sangaris are... you know, sometimes you… you… you run out of words — shocking to the core. But at this point, we're not able to confirm the reports that we've seen.

Correspondent:  As… as a follow‑up, they… they also talked about a case involving a 16‑year‑old girl and an alleged case involving the rape of an… of a 16‑year‑old girl by a Congolese peacekeeper that happened this week on Monday in a different area of…

Spokesman: Yes, I think I had… I had flagged… if I'm not recalling two additional cases that were from 2016 earlier this year… that happened… excuse me. Let me try again.  Earlier this week, I had confirmed that there were two additional cases that were from 2016.  Those are separate from what we're talking about here today.

Correspondent: Was one of those cases the 16‑year‑old girl or was this something new? because this was like Monday afternoon.

Spokesman: Yes, let me… let me check on that.  Mr. Lee.  I'll get to you.

Question:  Sure.  I mean… I want… what I wanted to ask is this.  If it is the case that there are rapes taking place as recently as this week and if the Secretary‑General had proudly announced that the forced retirement or resignation of Babacar Gaye was a strong action, what explains the continuing abuse by the mission?  You brought up Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous, and you said Mr. Ladsous is there and talking to him.  Obviously, he's in charge of UN peacekeeping. In this room, he said there'd be fewer rapes if there were relatively cheap [rest and recuperation] flights out.  I'd like you to respond to, like, why hasn't… if the Secretary‑General is this concerned, why has the only action taken thus far been to get Babacar Gaye out?  And I also wanted to ask you, given that this is a high‑profile consultation of the Security Council, why is the glass door to the Security Council locked and the guard didn't allow me through the turnstile?

Spokesman:  Matthew, Matthew, I'm… today I'm taking a vacation from your access issue.

Correspondent:  I need it to cover the meeting.

Spokesman:  I understand.

Correspondent:  I need it to cover meeting, and I was banned from covering it.


Spokesman:  Can I answer your question?

Question:  [Inaudible]?  That's what I want to ask.

Spokesman:  I can't confirm it because I didn't see it with my own eyes.  Okay.  First of all, I think it would be… first of all, to go back to a point of disagreement you and I have had for a long time, that's not what Mr. Ladsous said.

Question:  Did he say cheap flights?

Spokesman:  That's not what Mr. Ladsous said. Second of all, it is not the only measure that has been taken. We have seen recently whole contingents being rotated out.  We have seen increased awareness on behalf of the mission. I think the way this… these particular cases are a testament to it, how we've been updating people very publicly as soon as there are allegations we're moving forward and we're investigating.  It is the responsibility… the ultimate responsibility of Member States to ensure that the troops that are given behaved properly, and if they don't behave properly that all those soldiers who are found guilty of gross abuse, of abuse that defies words, be held accountable to the strongest possible extent of the law.

Question:  Yesterday, in the lobby, I spoke with the Permanent Representative of Burundi, Albert Shingiro.  This was after the meeting that you've discussed and I want to say he was entirely chipper, not even talking about rapes.  He was talking about how great Pierre Nkurunziza is doing.  So I want to know, will you say what type of meeting was this?  It's described by you as taking these TCCs [troop-contributing countries] to task, and yet if the Permanent Representative, who just had the meeting, isn't concerned and isn't talking about it…

Spokesman:  You know, frankly, what the Permanent Representatives may tell you on your lobby beat and what may happen in the meeting are two different things.  Mr. Khare was very direct into… into the allegations.  The commitment we received from Burundi is that they would be sending national investigating officers within the next few days and that they were taking these allegations extremely seriously.

Question:  You know they're investigating mass graves as well, right…?

Spokesman:  I'll move on.  Abdelhamid.  Sorry, and then we'll go to you.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Senator Patrick Leahy of the United States Congress… Leahy, I'm sorry… and ten other senators signed a letter asking Secretary of State [John] Kerry to investigate extrajudicial killing in Israel, especially after the… that execution style of the young boy [inaudible] in the city of [inaudible].  Isn't that more appropriate that this call for investigation, the extrajudicial killing in general, to come from the UN and not from the…?

Spokesman:  You know, you had raised that question before. I think I answered it.  On the particular case you've mentioned, it is incumbent on the Israeli authorities to investigate the case fully.  My understanding is that it is being investigated and the soldier is facing charges from what I've read in the press and that people who violate the rights be… be punished.  Fathi.  You've been very patient.

Question:  Okay.  Thank you, Stéphane.  A follow‑up on Central African Republic.  With these allegations against the Burundian and the Gabonese contingents, what would be the… the… the procedure?  Would these contingents be repatriated to their home countries, and would they be replaced from the same countries, or they would be replaced by others?  And in this case, how would this affect the existing peacekeeping missions throughout the continent and other places where troops come from these two particular [inaudible]?

Spokesman:  The… obviously, we're still in the investigative stage.  All disciplinary options are open, including the full repatriation of the contingent.  But, I would reiterate that the stage where we're at now is trying to gather more facts in an area that is extremely remote.  And so our team… the team is there and trying to gather facts and with UNICEF trying to interview as many of the victims as possible.  Yeah.

Question: Can you offer any rough breakdown in terms of the allegations, which countries are responsible for a quarter, a half?  And on the French, do you have any update on sort of dialogue with them because that's a bit of a separate category.  They weren't ever part of the mission, and there's been very little information from… from Paris, so I'm wondering if the UN knows…

Spokesman:  No, the… our understanding on the earlier cases the judicial investigation is still going on.  There is a dialogue currently going on between the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the French authorities.  As this involves human rights violations by non‑UN forces, it comes under the… the umbrella of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. We want to see investigations done, and we want… we would like to see them done as… obviously, as quickly as possible so that the victims of crimes have occurred can face justice.  As to the breakdown, I don't have the exact breakdown, but the preliminary information that we have seems that most of the cases that we're talking about today relate to MINUSCA and MISCA troops because obviously before September 2015, this was a… an African Union‑led mission.  The Burundian and the Gabonese troops, both of them were initially deployed as under the MISCA African Union umbrella.

Question:  Can you… just a quick follow‑up.  Are there multiple allegations against French troops among this latest batch, more than five?  I mean, anything like that.

Spokesman: I can't give you that kind of granular detail.  Ms. Fasulo.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Also on this issue, the note to correspondents said the new allegations dealt with UN personnel, non‑UN personnel and local armed groups.  Does the UN have a relationship with these local armed leaders, or how does the UN intend to pursue any allegations…?

Spokesman:  There have been… there were activities by both the anti‑Balaka and ex‑Séléka factions in the area.  We believe that some of these crimes were perpetrated by these armed groups.  This would not be the first time as we've seen both of these groups commit horrendous human rights violations.  We don't have a… obviously, it is not the same kind of relationship with those groups that we have with troop-contributing countries, but it is a matter also for the national authorities in the Central African Republic with the assistance of the UN to investigate those crimes and try to bring those who… the perpetrators who may be nationals to the Central African Republic to justice.  Lou.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  A couple of follow‑ups.  So, can you confirm that the allegations outlined in the Code Blue AIDS Free World press release are actually allegations that have been received by the UN because they're citing interviews that UNICEF did.  This all seems to be information coming from the UN.  And also, can you confirm the French… did the French tell you that these latest allegations are being folded into their ongoing criminal investigation?  And finally, what is the timeline for these… for the allegations being made by the 108 victims?  Is this still all 2013 through 2015?  Thanks.

Spokesman:  Yes. Taking your second question… your last question first, from what we understand, at this time, the… it is… this relates to the period of 2013 to 2015.  As for the French, whether or not they're going to fold it in, I don't know.  I mean, these were… they were notified earlier this week. Obviously, every country has its own process. We understand that they are taking it seriously, and we would hope that every troop-contributing country, whether it's for the UN or any international forces, takes it very seriously.  And what we're able to confirm now, as I said, are 108 interviews have taken place so far. You know, the way this came about is that last week UNICEF's office in Bangui received information from one of its local partners about a very high level of allegations in the area that we're talking about in one district.  UNICEF sent some people to the area.  They then notified the peacekeeping mission.  We then sent the first integrated team to the area and then a second one yesterday, Wednesday.  We're, as I said, trying to ascertain the facts to the best of our ability in some very challenging circumstances.  Mr. Klein and then…

Question:  I want to go back to the letter that you characterized as personal from the Secretary‑General to the King of Morocco.  I mean, first of all, is it safe to assume that the subject matter was the dispute, the ongoing dispute? I'm assuming that's a yes.

Spokesman:  I was told not to divulge the contents of the letter, but I think that's a safe assumption to make.

Question:  Okay.  So, can you at least say whether the Secretary‑General was looking for a response from the king and whether he intends to follow‑up with a phone call in a… in a, you know, private person‑to‑person communication?

Spokesman:  I think when one sends a letter, in most cases, one hopes for a response of some type.  We very much hope we will be able to have discussions between senior UN officials and senior Moroccan officials.  As we've indicated, we would like to move forward in a positive manner on this issue.

Question:  But, what… what… what prompted the Secretary‑General to personally write this letter?  Was it an attempt… without going into the contents as such, it was an attempt to further explain the context in which he used the word "occupation", to offer some sort of an apology, to move on beyond the current dispute?

Spokesman:  I think it's to… you know, to explain directly along the same lines that we've been explaining publicly as to what happened, what the motivation was.  But, it's a personal letter from the head of the United Nations to the Head of State of a Member State and, as I said, we'd like to move… be able to move forward.

Question:  Follow‑up?  How does the Secretary‑General of the United Nations write a personal letter to the King of Morocco on an issue that… well, I mean, I don't understand how… how this works.  Maybe if you could explain at least, if you're not going to divulge the context, how does that work?

Spokesman:  I don't know how to explain it.  I mean…

Correspondent:  It sounds to me…

Spokesman:  I don't mean to make light of it.  I just don't know how to explain it.  The Secretary‑General writes a letter that he writes; he signs.  It's a personal letter directly to the Head of State.  You know, many, oftentimes, communications between Secretary‑General and the counterpart is often the minister of foreign affairs.  Sometimes it's the Head of State.  It's a personal letter. I…

Correspondent:  But it's… obviously going to be touching on issues that relate to the ongoing dispute…

Spokesman:  I mean, it's a…

Correspondent:  You can understand why I would ask the question…


Spokesman:  It's a personal letter that the Secretary‑General sent in his capacity as Secretary‑General of the UN.  Oleg.

Correspondent:  Yeah, another question on Western Sahara.  The Moroccan ambassador implied… after you said that this was… the use of the term "occupation" was a personal, spontaneous reaction of Ban Ki‑moon, the ambassador of Morocco implied that it wasn't actually spontaneous that the visit was planned and it was well known.  So, he shouldn't have been surprised to see what he saw.

Spokesman: You know, I… I have great respect for the Permanent Representative of Morocco. I don't… I'm not going to litigate this through you, Oleg, with all due respect.  I think we have stated our position publicly over and over again, and I… I really don't know what to add anymore.

Question:  And on a separate topic, sometime ago, the Georgian Foreign Minister announced that Ban Ki‑moon is going to be visiting the country.  Can you confirm that and say when it's going to happen, as well as possible visits to Armenia and Azerbaijan…

Spokesman:  No, we're not able to confirm it, but hopefully we'd have something soon.  Olga.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Just to clarify about personal letter.  So, the personal letter Ban Ki‑moon sign is like Secretary‑General of the United Nations or just sincerely yours, Ban Ki‑moon?  I mean, is the letter from SG or from Ban Ki‑moon?

Spokesman:  Both are correct.  He signed it Ban Ki‑moon on… on letterhead that is marked Secretary‑General.

Question: It wasn't my question.  The question is, Syrian President Bashar Assad said yesterday in an interview to RIA Novosti said that the economy… country's economy lost more than $200 billion after the five years of conflict and war.  Does SG see any possibility to help to restore the country?

Spokesman:  Well, I think the focus for all of the parties involved in the Syrian conflict are the political talks led by Mr. de Mistura in order to find… to bring peace and stability so the country can… can rebuild.  Obviously, as in many of these cases, once we get past the fighting and the peace, there… the development and the rebuilding can start.

Correspondent:  The… there will be the first-ever humanitarian world summit in May in Istanbul.  Maybe Secretary‑General can call for another donor conference, like a donor pledge.

Spokesman:  We've been… all of our humanitarian appeals for Syria and other places are woefully underfunded. One of the reasons behind this World Humanitarian Summit is to try to come up with different ways of going about funding humanitarian crises.  So, we don't have to go out with a hat systematically every time.  Masood. I’ll come back to you.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Talking about the conversations and letters by the Secretary‑General, has the Secretary‑General has had any conversation with the Israeli leadership about 6,700 prisoners in Palestinian prison, in the jails?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General has not spoken directly to any Israeli leaders, but these are the types of issues that are raised at different levels including very publicly in the periodic report of the Security Council… briefing of the Security Council on… on the Middle East.  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you. Regarding the rising tensions in Libya, is there any new developments on the UN side?

Spokesman:  No, I mean, just the… again, the dire humanitarian situation that we've outlined, and we very much hope that the country will come… unite forward and support the Government of National Accord.  Edie.  Okay.  Sorry.  Edie, and then we'll come back to you.

Question:  Going back to the sex abuse allegations, has the UN given any thought to actually being proactive and sending out teams to communities around areas where UN peacekeepers are deployed to actually do some proactive checking on possible other allegations of sexual abuse?

Spokesman:  You know, there is a… an increased level of community outreach.  This has been outlined in the various reports of the Secretary‑General recent on special measures to ensure that we have partners in the community who are able to help us communicate to the community and ensure that people feel safe in… in coming forward when there has been abuse.  I think what we're seeing now could… is also partly due to a much different stance of the mission under the leadership of Mr. [Parfait] Onanga‑Anyanga on victims… victims feeling that they can safely step forward and us reacting much more quickly when the people do come forward.  Abdelhamid.

Question:  Yeah, on Libya, Stéphane, you know yesterday the Government… the Government of National Accord arrived in Tripoli…?

Spokesman:  Yep.

Question:  …on a military ship, which took them 12 hours to get there. However, Khalifa al-Ghawi, the de facto Prime Minister in Tripoli, threatened them and asked them to leave the Tripoli.  In the evening, there were shots in the air.  Streets were empty.  Shops were closed.  Do you think they will… they can sustain and survive in Tripoli under those circumstances?

Spokesman:  We very much hope that there will be support for the Government of National Accord and the Presidency Council.  Obviously, the welcome that they received is not one that we would like to see, but they do represent the fruit of a very long and complicated negotiating process and mediation process that Mr. [Martin] Kobler and his predecessor, Mr. [Bernardino] León, had led.  So, we very much hope we can move on to a more positive atmosphere.  Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure.  I want to follow up on Western Sahara and something on Burundi.  I mean, at the stakeout, I'm sure you know this, but it was on film, and will be on YouTube shortly.  Mr. [Omar] Hilale, the Permanent Representative, said he has evidence on his phone that disproves what you said yesterday.  He was asked to show it.  He said he'll show it to you.  I know you won't litigate it with him.  Will you say that you will actually look at this and then say whether what you said yesterday is false or true?

Spokesman:  My office is… is open.

Question:  Unlike the Security Council.  I want to ask you about Burundi.  There was a death… high‑profile death of a Rwandan ambassador in jail yesterday that's given rise to major tensions.  Jacques Bihozagara is dead and some people say he was poisoned.  Any case it's a big event in the country.  And I'm curious that there's been no statement.  What does the UN or Mr. [Jamal] Benomar… what's the response to what clearly has the potential to be…?

Spokesman:  We obviously would hope that his death will be investigated in as much of a public manner as possible.  Fathi.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Picking up on the theme of proactivity that [inaudible] was talking about in Libya, now, in Syria, after the successful military operation that the Syrian Government took to liberate Palmyra and reports that there are… ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Da’esh] has left lots of land mines around the historical sites, would the UN take a proactive approach through UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) sending teams to help in cleaning this area?

Spokesman:  Obviously, I think it's… it's too early.  We're still talking about an active combat… active zone, war zone but as a matter of principle, the UN, whether it's UN mine action or anybody, would have to be invited in… into the country, but I think it's… we're getting ahead of ourselves in all of that at this point.  Mr. Klein and then Oleg.

Question:  Yes.  Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura had said during his press briefing after the temporary adjournment of the peace talks that he had met or he confirmed having met with representatives of a group called a Moscow group which is a group… opposition group that is not as… as intent on necessarily having Assad removed as the officially designated committee of opposition.  Is it up to Mr. de Mistura in the last analysis to determine which representatives, self‑declared representatives of the opposition, can officially be part of the negotiating process? In other words, particularly with this Moscow group, can he confer just by, you know, as a final arbiter that they can indeed be part of that…

Spokesman: I think... you know, we're talking about our proximity talks for the time being.  And Mr. de Mistura is trying to talk to as many people as possible, and he should be given the freedom to talk to as many people as possible.

Question:  But, as you know, the official committee that was approved by Saudi Arabia to represent the opposition is claiming they're the exclusive representative to… for the opposition in proximity talks.  I'm just trying to understand the process here.  Given this other group that's come forward, is Mr. de Mistura going to give them, in effect, equal weight in the discussion?

Spokesman:  I think it's… we're talking again about proximity talks.  It's not about equal weight.  It's about letting the envoy hear as many voices as possible about the future of Syria.  Oleg, Olga, then Mr. Lee.

Question:  Stéphane, follow‑up on that.  Do you imply that the Moscow group is actually a part of the peace process and the talks that de Mistura is…?

Spokesman:  No, I'm just saying he needs to be able to talk to as many people as possible.

Question:  All right.  And some other things.  The UN court today acquitted Vojislav Seselj on all counts of atrocities he was accused of.  Does Ban Ki‑moon have anything to say on that?  And, also, as you know, there will be planned some hearings for the candidates on the post of Ban Ki‑moon… Secretary‑General.  Is Ban Ki‑moon going to take part in this hearings?  Will be… will he be following that?  And will he meet in person the candidates?

Spokesman: He has no formal role in this election of the next Secretary‑General.  So, I don't… I don't… I'm sure… he… he will not participate in any of the meetings.  If during the… during stays in New York people ask to meet him, I'm sure he will meet him… meet people as a courtesy.  But, again, it is not… he has no formal or informal role in choosing his successor.  His focus remains on the work he has to do.  Obviously, we've seen the ruling by the… by the tribunal. We've taken note of the delivery of the judgment in the case of Mr. Seselj.  The Secretary‑General obviously deeply appreciates the dedication and hard work of the judges and staff of the ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia] as they progress towards the completion of the tribunal's work. His thoughts are as always with the victims of the crimes committed during the conflict of the former Yugoslavia.  Olga, then Mr. Lee.

Question:  Thank you.  Also a quick follow‑up about the proximity… Syria, the next round of the proximity talks should be in mid-April and previously Secretary Kerry and also Bashar Assad said that it's… they are expected a new constitution to be drafted by August.  So. what do you see can be done by August?  How many…?

Spokesman:  I… I'm not going to predict.  Obviously, the timeline and the agenda for those talks are set by the relevant Security Council resolutions.  Ms.…

Question:  What's your assessment of the timeline of the new [inaudible]?

Spokesman:  Again, I'm not going to make any comments from here on this.  Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure, I want to ask about Haiti cholera, corruption, and censorship.  On Haiti cholera, I'm sure you've seen it, The Washington Post on Monday had a very long article about the UN's failure to make good to victims.  And they say in two sentences.  They say:  “Although the UN is clearly responsible in fact for the epidemic, it has never been responsible in law, and that's due in part to immunity, lack of standing for individuals and…” — this is the part what I want to really ask you about — "…Haiti's position of dependence in an international system.”  So, I wanted to know, it's pretty devastating.  I guess you probably disagree that the UN brought cholera to Haiti, but the idea that its immunity, in fact, has a disproportionately negative impact on smaller countries, poorer countries, smaller entities, what's… what's the response to that?

Spokesman:  You know, on the cholera case, the issue's been brought up.  We have nothing to change in our situation… in our position on the judicial process that's… that's ongoing.  Obviously, as we've said, and the Secretary‑General himself has gone to Haiti, we have tried to raise as much funds as possible to help with the sanitation and upgrading the sanitation system of Haiti.  As to, you know, in going into a debate about the impact of immunity and the relationship between small and bigger states, I'm not going to get into it.

Question:  But, how about this?  If now the Secretary‑General is seen fit to set up a Trust Fund for victims of UN sexual abuse, has a single penny been paid by the United Nations to the surviving family members of the 10,000 people…?

Spokesman:  We have tried to and have raised funds to address this situation.

Question:  Okay.  I wanted to ask you, on corruption, there… in the case of… of… of… a lot of focus has been on Ng Lap Seng, but on the side of it that Sheri Yan and the Global Sustainability Foundation, there's reporting… and I'm going to read to you from a published report.  It says, the United Nations has ordered an investigation of Chong… of Chau Chak Wing, the boss of Guangzhou Kinggold Group, which is basically the money behind Sheri Yan that was flowed into the Global Sustainability Foundation, which paid for the slavery memorial at the founding of which Ban Ki‑moon's spouse and Mr. Nambiar were present.  Is this, in fact, true?  Is the UN actually doing more investigation than I'm aware of, or is this report false and you're not investigating…?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen the report.  If you send it to me, as I said, I will look at anything that is shown to me.

Question:  Okay.  And, finally, I want to… you're saying it's not important to you or you won't respond to a lack of access to the Security Council on this issue today.  But, I'm going to ask you about what I consider censorship.  Yesterday, I was able to be at this… at the stakeout.  I was there.  I was doing a Periscope broadcast, which is my right.  And I was told by a guard, "You can't say that."  This is a direct quote.  It was on tape.  And what I wanted to know from you, as the Spokesman of the Secretary‑General, is it the place of UN security or any UN official to tell a journalist what they can say in what's essentially a stand‑up?  Is that what the UN is for?

Spokesman:  I think you have been able to say and write what you want so I think…

Correspondent:  I was told to stop and I've been harassed by security, as recently as yesterday.

Spokesman:  Masood.

Question:  The Secretary‑General is now attending the nuclear summit in Washington, D.C.  Can you please tell us exactly what is… not exactly, but the [inaudible] of Secretary‑General's talks with President Obama and other world leaders would be?

Spokesman:  Masood, with due respect, I think that was one of the first notes I read out.  I will give you the text, which outlines what he said… what he's going to say.

Correspondent:  On particular… particularly about the Iran nuke deal.

Spokesman:  I think on the… on the Iran nuclear thing, I… the Secretary‑General has supported the agreement and would hope that the parties abide by it.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.