The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, everyone.
**Secretary-General in Los Angeles
The Secretary-General spoke yesterday at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, telling the students there that he considers himself to be a child of the United Nations. During the Korean War, he said, when his family had no food, the United Nations fed them. When Korean schools were burned down, the United Nations gave books. When the economy collapsed, the United Nations mobilized support. Now, he added, as Secretary-General of the United Nations, he strives daily to do for others what the United Nations did for him.
Later in the day, the Secretary-General participated in The Wall Street Journal ECO:nomics conference, which brings together leaders from the private sector, environmental experts and policy makers to discuss and debate issues related to climate and sustainability. The Secretary-General was interviewed by The Wall Street Journal editorial board member Kimberley Strassel. The Secretary-General discussed the current state of play relating to the Paris climate treaty and also stressed the need for the full participation of the private sector in the fight against climate change.
The Geneva Conference on Preventing Violent Extremism kicked off today at the Palais de Nations. Speaking at the Conference’s opening, the head of the UN Office in Geneva, Michael Møller, warned that violent extremism has changed the nature of conflicts and that the messages of religious, cultural and social intolerance fostered by violent extremists are adversely impacting many regions of the world.
The Secretary-General, who left Los Angeles for Geneva this morning, will address the high-level segment of the Conference tomorrow at around 10 a.m. Geneva time. Following that, he is expected to speak to the media with the Head of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Didier Burkhalter, at 1 p.m. You should be able to watch all of this live on UN WebTV. The two-day Conference, which is co-organized by the United Nations and the Government of Switzerland, aims to help the international community share experiences and good practices in addressing the drivers of violent extremism and build support for the Secretary-General’s Plan of Action.
The Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, spoke to the press in Geneva today, saying that he expects the intra-Syrian talks to resume on 13 April in Geneva. Prior to the start of the talks, he said, he wants to ensure that the talks will start a political process leading to a real political transition. In the coming days, Mr. de Mistura plans to travel to Damascus and Tehran, and also to meet with Turkish, Saudi and other officials, before returning to Geneva in the middle of next week. While in Syria, Mr. de Mistura expects to meet with the Foreign Minister and Deputy Foreign Minister. The Special Envoy added that the proceedings in Geneva are expected once more to start with proximity talks.
To mark World Health Day, the United Nations calls on all parties to the conflict in Syria to fully respect the right of all to health. Access to healthcare and medical treatment is a fundamental human right protected under international law. Despite the recent arrival of aid convoys to a number of areas, certain life-saving medicines and supplies, including surgical items, continue to be removed from convoys by the authorities. This practice continues to lead to unnecessary suffering and loss of life.
Over 80,000 treatments have been excluded or removed from convoys in 2016, the vast majority by the Syrian authorities. The United Nations calls on all parties to the conflict, particularly the Syrian authorities, to allow for all necessary medical items and equipment, including surgical items, to be allowed onto the convoys. Incidents of denials of medical evacuations of the wounded and sick by the parties to the conflict also continue to be reported, which is unacceptable. Medical evacuations need to be immediately facilitated to all those in need. The UN calls for unconditional, unimpeded and sustained access to all the 4.6 million people in besieged and hard-to-reach locations across Syria.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya, Martin Kobler, briefed the Security Council by video teleconference from Geneva during consultations this morning. Members will begin a meeting on Sudan and South Sudan shortly.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is concerned that hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens fear being deprived of their status as internally displaced persons, which legally entitles them to receive social welfare payments. The Ukrainian Government has suspended social welfare payments and started a procedure of verification for registered IDPs from five eastern Ukrainian regions on the grounds of suspected fraud schemes. The UN would stress the importance of de-linking IDP payments and pensions, since the latter are an acquired right of all citizens who meet certain eligibility requirements and are in no way linked to displacement.
**Central African Republic
From the Central African Republic, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) says that the Autorité Nationale des Elections (ANE) announced the provisional results for the 31 March second round of the legislative elections. Amid a low voter turnout, 34 independent candidates, including four women, were elected. According to ANE, seven parties have secured seats to form a parliamentary group in the National Assembly. The final results are expected on 27 April. MINUSCA and the Integrated Electoral Assistance Team assisted in transporting electoral materials. While the Transitional Constitutional Court had annulled legislatives elections in 10 constituencies, MINUSCA will support national authorities in organizing elections in these constituencies.
In his message for the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda, the Secretary-General has called on the international community to renew its resolve to prevent such atrocities from ever being repeated, anywhere in the world. The theme of this year’s commemoration is “Fighting Genocide Ideology.” The Secretary-General underscored the importance of promoting inclusion, dialogue and the rule of law to establish peaceful and just societies. On Monday, 11 April, the Secretary-General will participate in a memorial ceremony in the General Assembly Hall at 3:30 p.m.
World cereal production in 2016 is set to amount to 2.521 trillion tons, the third-highest global performance on record, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) first forecast for the new season, which was released today. Large inventory levels and relatively sluggish global demand mean that market conditions for staple food grains appear stable for at least another season. Also today, the FAO released its monthly Food Price Index. Overall, the Index rose by 1 per cent compared to February, as soaring sugar prices and continued increase in palm oil quotations more than offset plunging dairy product prices. In March, the Index averaged its highest level in 2016, but it is still some 12 per cent below its level of last year.
Like I said, today is World Health Day. In a short while, I will be joined by Dr. Nata Menabde, Executive Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Office in New York. She will brief you on the first WHO global report on Diabetes. And then at 2:15 p.m., there will be a briefing sponsored by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See on the Role of Pope Francis, the Holy See and the Santa Marta Group in Ending Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery by 2030. And that is it for me. Anything before we go to our guest? Yes, Carole?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Hi, Farhan. Just on the denial of medical evacuation, do you have any figures about how many people have been denied that? And you said it was unacceptable, but is it a violation of humanitarian law to not allow civilians to get access to medical help?
Deputy Spokesman: Certainly, the point… or one of the things in international humanitarian law is that all of those who need to be treated should have access. And so, we are trying and we continue to try to reach those who are in need of medical evacuations. We can't put a number on the number of people who have died from not receiving essential medical supplies or from not receiving evacuations in time. But, it's certainly unacceptable. We are aware that, in recent days, there are several people who have died from each of these things, that is to say, either not having enough medical facilities or not being evacuated in time. Yes, Matthew, and then Lou.
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. Just on the Security Council, you'd mentioned that they're taking up Sudan/South Sudan. Will you confirm that Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous will be briefing on any other business on Western Sahara? And could you also confirm that Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman will be meeting with Omar Hilale, the Permanent Representative of Morocco, in Geneva on this topic and give some update on where things stand between the Secretariat and Morocco?
Deputy Spokesman: No, I can't confirm what will appear under any other business. At this stage, they're still discussing Libya. From there on out, they'll go on to Sudan and South Sudan. And, of course, we'll have to see later in the day what… what other business transpires. I'm not informed of any briefings by Mr. Ladsous to the Council this morning. Regarding Mr. Feltman, he's been travelling. I do believe that he is one of the officials who has been in touch with our Moroccan counterparts.
Question: But, will he be meeting him in Geneva? That was my question. And also, the French ambassador in front of the Council said that Mr. Ladsous is doing a… any other business briefing, so I'm just wondering, is there some… is it still an open question or has it…?
Deputy Spokesman: It's possible that it may be added later. Like I said, at this stage, first, they're discussing Libya. Then they'll go on to Sudan/South Sudan, and then after that they'll decide on other business. Yes, Lou?
Question: Thanks, Farhan. Back on Syria, is the Secretary‑General concerned that this delay of the next round of talks could be an indication that things are not going so well? What has he heard from the various sides, including the Special Envoy? And then do you have an update on the investigation into the latest large number of rapes or sexual exploitation and abuse allegations in the Central African Republic?
Deputy Spokesman: We've been providing updates on that in recent days, as you're aware. I don't have any update for you today, but as we get more information from our peacekeeping and field support counterparts, we'll certainly relay those on to you. Regarding Syria, no, the Secretary‑General is not worried about this. And in fact, Staffan de Mistura, in his remarks to the press today, hasn't been worried about any particular problems in the start date. As it stands, we'd been saying all along that we'd expected the talks to resume the week of 11 April, and that is still what is happening. And what he's trying to do right now is lock in enough concrete understandings among the various parties so that you can ensure the greatest possibility of success during next week's talks.
Question: I'm just… quick follow‑up. What Carole was asking about, though, I mean, in the talks, a lot of people have been saying that they want to see the Syrian Government ensuring aid access, that this is one of the fundamental necessities in the conflict right now, and clearly, that's not the case. So, isn't the Secretary‑General worried about the whole… I mean, there's a delay. The Government is not providing the access that it pledged to provide. I mean, you yourself have said several times that it was necessary.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, and it is essential. And this is an important problem, because any loss of access ultimately results, very fundamentally, in people dying. And people have died from lack of medical access, from lack of surgical equipment. We are continuing to press for that, and we'll continue to press also for unimpeded humanitarian access, including to all of the besieged and hard‑to‑reach areas in Syria. As far as that goes, however, we also are continuing to press on the political track. Mr. de Mistura will continue with his efforts, including, as I just mentioned, his travels in the coming days to Damascus, to Iran, and potentially to several other places. And we will see where we go from there, but there are positive signs, and Mr. de Mistura has acknowledged this. Although there have been problems with the cessation of hostilities and there have been sporadic violations, there has been a dramatic lessening of violence across the country. That is significant. There's been some improvements in the delivery of different humanitarian supplies. And, in fact, since the beginning of 2016, the UN and its partners have successfully delivered assistance to reach more than 446,000 civilians in besieged, hard‑to‑reach and other priority areas. That's not enough, but that's certainly an improvement on what we had before. And we're going to continue to try to build on this, because, like I said, all of these things have a concrete impact in terms of helping and, in many cases, saving people's lives. Yes, in the back.
Question: Thank you. On Yemen, there are reports saying that Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed handed a draft agreement to the parties of the Yemen crisis. Can you confirm that and maybe tell us more about the contents of that agreement?
Deputy Spokesman: No, I can't confirm that. It… certainly, what I can point out to you is that, in the next few days, we do expect to see a cessation of hostilities begin on the ground and, following that, the start of talks in Kuwait. And that is what we're focussing towards. Yes, Ali?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Just a clarification on Syria, do you find that the Syrian Government is now on… in breach of the Security Council resolutions and the… to the international humanitarian law regarding these besieged areas? What kind of justifications do you hear from the Syrian Government for not allowing the humanitarian access to the besieged areas? And I have a question on Libya just after this.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, what has happened, sometimes, there have been problems with approvals, and sometimes there have been problems where items have been taken out of convoys for whatever types of reasons. What we are pointing out is the need, for example, to keep the surgical items. Meanwhile, of course, we've had some delays to report with regards to the movement of convoys. For example, a convoy was planned to Kafr Batna that was originally supposed to proceed on 29 March, which is a week ago. That convoy continues to be on hold. The Government has also still not approved access to all the 11 locations that the UN requested in its monthly convoy plan. And we call on all parties, in particular the Syrian Government, to ensure the swift movement of convoys and that all remaining convoy approvals are granted.
Question: On Libya, would you please just shed some light about the briefing that just happened from Mr. [Martin] Kobler to the Security Council? What's your expectations regarding the… to the officials who still opposing the agreement and the national unity Government? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the basic point is that Mr. Kobler is continuing to work with different parties. We continue to encourage all Libyan parties to support the Presidency Council and the continued implementation of the Libyan Political Agreement. And that is where he will concentrate his efforts. Obviously, there continue to be some different parties outside of that process, and we're hoping that we can bring them in and work with, not just the parties on the ground, but the relevant parties in the region to see what can be done to bring a greater acceptance of the Libyan Political Agreement. Edie?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. On Staffan de Mistura, is there any date for him to brief the Security Council? And also, on Libya, with the government now back actually in Tripoli, is there any prospect that the United Nations is also going to be returning to Tripoli and reopening a permanent office there?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, certainly, as… at some point, as we made clear before, if the conditions on the ground permit, we certainly do want to bring the support mission at Libya back to the capital. I can't announce anything at this point on when that might happen, but obviously, we will continue to study the conditions on the ground and see when conditions do permit the resumption of the mission's stay in Tripoli. Regarding your other question about Mr. de Mistura, I can't quite say just when his next briefing to the Security Council will be, given his fairly busy schedule of travels in the coming days. But, certainly, he does intend to keep the Security Council apprised of his work. And we'll try to provide some details once it's clear when he… that he can brief the Council. Nizar?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Staying on Syria, today the reports coming from Aleppo speak about mustard gas being used in Sheikh Maqsoud area against an area controlled by the Kurdish fighters. Also, in the area of Eis, which is south-west of Aleppo, there was a major offensive by the armed groups, led by Jabhat al‑Nusra, which has been raging for over four days now, and thousands of rebels have been involved in that. What… how does that affect or impact on the negotiations which are to be held in Geneva? And also what is your position regarding use of mustard gas in Aleppo?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I can't confirm these latest reports. Obviously, you've seen what we've had to say about any past uses of any chemical weapons and our concerns about that, and those would apply. But, I have no confirmation of that at this time. Regarding the violence as a whole, I'd just refer you to Mr. de Mistura's press conference from Geneva just a few hours ago. He's made clear his concerns about any loss of life and any fighting. And yet, at the same time, he has said how impressed he has been about the arrangements that have largely prevented any large escalation in the fighting. The cessation of hostilities has largely kept on track, and that is something for which we are thankful. And, certainly, it's something that many of the people living in Syria can appreciate, the overall lessening of the violence in recent weeks, which we hope will continue and grow. Yes, Linda?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Following up on Ukraine, I was wondering if there was any update in terms of the UN role there? And also has it been growing? Has it been decreasing? What's the UN's characterization of where things are heading? I mean, beyond what you mentioned earlier.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, certainly, we have supported the efforts on the ground that have been working to achieve an understanding between Moscow and Kyiv about the situation, and we'll continue with our support for those efforts as they continue, including the work of the Minsk Group and others. Yes, Masood?
Question: Yes, Stéphane. Thank you. Maybe you've been asked this question earlier about Yemen. Do you have any update on Yemen, on the talks that are scheduled and the talks that took place in Saudi Arabia?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding other talks, we are hopeful that any other talks in the prelude to the talks that will be led by Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed will help to move the process forward. We, of course, continue to anticipate both the cessation of hostilities and the start of the Kuwait talks. Yes, Oleg?
Question: Farhan, on Syria, with this situation with the Kafr Batna convoy, I remember that… I think it was last week or the week before that… Stephen O'Brien was briefing the Security Council, and he said that there were a number of convoys agreed between the UN and the Syrian Government planned for April. Does that mean that some others are also threatened? And also when the Syrian Government says that this… basically says that the convoy has a no‑go, it's not going anywhere, do they provide any reasons, maybe like security reasons? There's fighting in the area or why do they do that? Do you have the understanding? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, with different cases, there have been different reasons, but we are continuing to push for access. Regarding the convoys that have been on hold, what I can say is that access to Darayya, Douma, Eastern Harasta remain pending. And, similarly, no formal authorization has been received for access to Zabadani and Moadamiyeh. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure. Ask about Yemen and also about the OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] audit. On Yemen, I'm assuming that the Secretariat will have seen this either Human Rights Watch report or The New York Times story about the marketplace bombing of 15 March that killed 97 or more civilians. And Human Rights Watch said they went to the market, and they found fragments of an American Mk‑84 bomb, which is a 2,000‑pound bomb. So, a lot of people say this bomb is probably a… is a… is a… is a setup for war crimes in the sense that it's not well targeted. If you drop it in civilian areas, many people are predictably to die. And I wonder, what is the… the… I mean, the envoy, number one, but two, the UN's… does it… does it believe that… that the use of a 2,000‑pound bomb in a… on a marketplace can comply with the international humanitarian law? And if, not what's the response to these findings?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we've stated our concerns about any of the attacks on predominantly civilian areas, and I would restate those for you at this stage. For right now, as you know, our focus is to make sure that we can put a cessation to all the fighting, and we're hoping that will take effect in the coming days.
Question: Sure. Can I ask about…?
Deputy Spokesman: Hold on. Yes. Ali and then Carole.
Question: Just on Western Sahara, is Mr. Feltman going at any time to talk to the press about any… about this issue or about any other issues? Because he is obviously dealing with a lot of issues, and there is a need for the press to talk to him about the… all those stuff. Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: He currently is on travel, so he wouldn't be available for you right now, but we can see what happens next time he's in New York for a while. Yes, Carole?
Question: Farhan, you mentioned yesterday the Special Coordinator for the UN response to peacekeepers' sexual abuses in Bangui, and I'm wondering if she's travelling anywhere else. And can you talk about her mission and whether any new initiatives or new plans are being discussed to address the crisis specifically with MINUSCA?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, we're actually trying to get some updates from her travels when we can. I don't have anything for you today, but hopefully, in the coming days, as those travels continue, we'll try to provide an update on her activities. Yes?
Question: I've now obtained and published this OIOS audit of… of selected NGOs and related entity that you said will come out on 22 April. And there's different things I want to ask you about it, but main thing I want to ask about is, there's an entire section that runs from paragraph 37 through paragraph 40 that it's about an exhibit they say was improperly held in the Visitor's Lobby on 30 June 2015. And it goes through a lot of detail, and it says that the Under‑Secretary‑General of the Department of Public Information is in charge of the exhibits committee and, I guess, in charge of the space. And somehow, this exhibit was held in violation of a number of the rules that apply to it. What I'm wondering is, what is the response? Obviously, it seems like you guys have had access to this… to this audit even before it was sent to Member States. What is the thinking… the way they walk through it is they say… it seems strange. If you're… if she's in charge of the space and the exhibit took place without complying with the rules, what is the response to her responsibility for that? And what steps have been taken? The audit doesn't say that any… that anything… any steps have yet been taken to… to address that.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, with regard to the specific cases referred to in the audit, actions being taken to determine responsibility and any follow‑up and any measures that may be deemed appropriate. And so, we'll continue to study that.
Question: And who decide… I mean, I did… in getting the audit, there obviously is a long section about South‑South News, but I noticed that a related entity that… of which there's been a lot of coverage is South‑South Awards. And it's unclear… it's not mentioned once in here. And this is something that… I mean, the Secretary‑General received the South‑South Award. This is an entity that's absolutely connected to Ng Lap Seng and Frank Lorenzo et al. So, the question is, who… maybe that's OIOS, but who decided on the scope of this audit, the date that it would start, 1 January 2012, and the exclusion of… of… one of the things that people covering this scandal have focused on are these glitzy events in the Waldorf. The Under‑Secretary‑General of DPI did attend in September, but prior to that, Ms. [Susana] Malcorra took an award for Ban [Ki-moon]. Why is this not in the audit? And will there be an audit of South‑South Awards going forward?
Deputy Spokesman: I think the audit is what it is. It's prepared by the professional people in the Office of Internal Oversight who deal with audits. And you can evaluate the results for yourself.
Question: And just one other thing I wanted to ask about, because I know I'd asked Stéphane [Dujarric] and you, going back to October, about the inclusion of South‑South News content in UN Television archives. And, eventually, you came back with this answer that it was due to Habitat. And I just… I've pointed out to you that there's a number of things that have nothing to do with Habitat, a number of inclusions that you just search UNTV for "South‑South News". But, I do notice in this audit that there is a reference to South‑South News and Habitat. So, I wanted to know, was this finding that you said of people looking into how it got in there, was it basically just taken from reading the audit, or was there a… a… a… an analysis, either by your office or DPI, of how the many other inclusions of South‑South News and UNTV archives took place?
Deputy Spokesman: No, our office had checked with DPI. That was prior to us knowing about the results of the audit. And with that, let us go to our guest.