The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
As you know, the Secretary-General this morning spoke at an event on the UN Peace Operations Review.
The Secretary-General stressed eight areas which are critical, including prevention and mediation, partnerships, the need to root out sexual exploitation and abuse, and focus on women, peace and security.
He also spoke at the opening of the forty-ninth session of the Commission on Population and Development, during which he welcomed the Commission’s focus on strengthening the demographic evidence base for efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Population data and analysis are critical to ending inequalities, helping people who are hard to reach, and ushering in a life of dignity for all, added the Secretary-General. His remarks are obviously already up on the website.
And at 3:30 this afternoon, he will take part in the annual commemoration of the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda, which will take place, I believe, in the General Assembly Hall.
Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, met today in Damascus with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem to discuss the preparation for the Geneva talks, which are expected, as you know, to resume on 13 April.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Mr. de Mistura said that he had also discussed increased humanitarian access to all besieged areas and to all Syrians with the Foreign Minister. In that context, he noted the successful air drops in Deir Ezzour on Sunday by the World Food Programme (WFP), as part of its effort to reach 200,000 people in this besieged area. The Special Envoy added that he and the Foreign Minister had discussed the importance of protecting and maintaining the cessation of hostilities.
Regarding the aid drops in Deir Ezzour, the World Food Programme said that a total of 20 metric tons of urgently needed food supplies — mainly beans, chickpeas and rice, basically enough to feed 2,500 people for one month — were dropped from high altitude by a WFP-chartered aircraft. Out of 26 pallets loaded with food, contained in platforms attached to high altitude parachutes, 22 pallets were collected by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) on the ground, WFP’s partner in the city. WFP is working to find out what happened to the four other pallets.
Turning to Yemen, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, has welcomed the start of cessation of hostilities that began at midnight, 10 April 2016. He urges all parties to work to ensure that the cessation of hostilities is fully respected, and creates a conducive environment for the peace talks scheduled to resume in Kuwait on 18 April.
The Special Envoy highlighted that the Terms and Conditions for the cessation of hostilities included commitments for the unhindered access for humanitarian supplies and personnel to all parts of Yemen.
The De-escalation and Coordination Committee, comprised of military representatives from both sides, has been reconvened in Kuwait and will work to bolster adherence to the cessation of hostilities.
Preparations are currently well under way for the start of the Yemeni talks, which will be held, obviously, under the auspices of the United Nations. The talks will focus on five main areas: the withdrawal of militias and armed groups, the handover of heavy weapons to the State, interim security arrangements, the restoration of State institutions and the resumption of inclusive political dialogue, in addition to the creation of a special committee regarding prisoners and detainees.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian community obviously welcomes the start of the cessation of hostilities in Yemen and will be using every opportunity to scale up response in areas where the ceasefire holds and where access has been previously difficult because of hostilities.
A nationwide three-day polio vaccination campaign — supported by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank — and targeting 5 million children, was successfully launched yesterday. Health partners are prepared to deploy additional medical teams and supplies — including supplies for over 160,000 people in Taiz, Marib and Al Jawf governorates — should the cessation hold. Water and sanitation partners also plan to rehabilitate water facilities in Sa’ada, which had been damaged in air strikes.
We all call on the parties to provide safe, unconditional, and sustained access to people in need across Yemen.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory released the findings of an unprecedented survey of Palestinian families internally displaced in the Gaza Strip, due to the 2014 escalation of hostilities.
According to the survey, over 80 per cent of families borrowed money to get by in the past year, and over 40 per cent have decreased their consumption of food. Nearly half fear being evicted from their accommodation.
The situation of women and girls is of particular concern, with many families reporting living in conditions without safety, dignity and privacy, including in tents, makeshift shelters, destroyed houses or even outdoors.
**Central African Republic
Just an update from the Central African Republic, where as you know Jane Holl Lute, the Secretary-General’s Special Coordinator on improving the UN response to sexual exploitation and abuse, concluded her visit to the country this morning. On Saturday, she visited Bambari, where she met with the UN Mission’s (MINUSCA’s) Mauritanian and Gabonese troops, the local Mission’s sexual exploitation and abuse task force, as well as the Mayor of Bambari.
Talking to the media, Ms. Lute said that each visit “is an opportunity to convey in very clear terms the expectations of the Secretary-General and of the international community that we perform our mission with excellence and integrity and in commitment to the people of this country that we have come to serve”.
Before concluding her visit, she held additional meetings, including with senior management in the UN peacekeeping mission, the UN country team, and other UN agencies that focus on protection, as well as ambassadors accredited to the Central African Republic and Government officials.
She is now on her way to or in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the meantime, the joint team sent by the peacekeeping Mission and the UN Country Team to Kemo prefecture has concluded a preliminary assessment on the allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in the area by international forces, including UN peacekeepers. The Office of the Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) is at the moment studying the results of this assessment while at the same time undertaking, with the support of the Mission, the necessary logistical arrangements for the dispatch of a reinforced investigation team from OIOS of 10 people to Kemo prefecture.
The Mission is also working very closely with UN agencies, funds and programmes to provide appropriate support to victims.
While the Mission has received no allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse involving the current MINUSCA contingent deployed in the area, these peacekeeping troops are confined to their base outside of normal operations and the Nepalese Military Police has been deployed to the area to provide additional protection.
Also on the CAR, our humanitarian colleagues say that three years into the conflict, the biggest killers of children in the country are not bullets but malnutrition, malaria, respiratory infections and diarrhoea.
The mortality rate of children under 5 is now above emergency levels in 11 out of the 16 prefectures across the country and in the capital, Bangui, marking a significant increase since pre-crisis levels.
The number of hungry people has also doubled from 2015, with half the people unable to access sufficient food.
Aid agencies in the Central African Republic are seeking $531 million this year to help some 1.9 million people in need of their basic food, water, shelter and sanitation needs.
Our friends at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) say that as a result of the recent fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, several hundred people, mostly women, children and elderly, have been displaced.
UNHCR is calling on all parties to ensure that their rights are respected and protected. The agency says that most of those displaced are from villages along the north-eastern part of Nagorno-Karabakh.
UNHCR is alarmed at the renewal of conflict, which left dozens of people dead and has again resulted in displacement of civilians, some of whom have told the agency that they have been displaced several times over the last two decades.
UNHCR has also received reports of civilian casualties, destruction of housing and infrastructure, as well as limitations on the freedom of movement of those seeking to escape from the conflict zone.
It has offered to help the Governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan respond to the humanitarian needs of the newly displaced and has asked the Governments to access the people in need.
**Greece/the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
UNHCR also said that it was worried about a flare of violence on Sunday at the refugee/migrant camp near Idomeni on the border between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
The Agency stressed that the use of tear gas as a means of response to the crisis was of specific concern to the agency.
UHNCR said that now the media and public attention has focused on how the recent EU (European Union)-Turkey agreement on new refugee and migrant arrivals was being implemented, and urged that other refugees and migrants elsewhere not be forgotten.
A quick note from UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP), who are stepping up efforts to help communities cope with a severe drought made worse by El Niño conditions in Somaliland and Puntland.
UNICEF says that these communities have lived through four successive poor rainy seasons and their ability to cope with the drought has been stretched to the limit.
**World Humanitarian Summit
Our humanitarian colleagues announce today the opening of media accreditation for the World Humanitarian Summit, which you know will take place in Istanbul on 23-24 May.
Accreditation will be managed by our colleagues in MALU (Media Accrediation and Liaison Unit) and will close on 13 May. So if you are interested or know people who are interested, please pass on the message.
Also, the UN website now hosts World Humanitarian Summit pages in all six official languages. And there is the contact for the Spokesman for the Conference, as well, on the website.
A couple of press encounters items: unfortunately, Selwin Hart, our colleague from the Climate (Change Support) Team was not able to make it to noon today. We will try to reschedule that briefing for later today or tomorrow. That’s obviously focusing on the April 22 signing ceremony.
After we are done here, Dan Thomas will come up and brief you on the SG election process, events that are going on this week.
Tomorrow at 11:15 a.m., there will be a public event, a press event in this room by the Secretary-General and Rafael Correa, the Constitutional President of the Republic of Ecuador. They will be doing a joint signing of a joint letter inviting Heads of State to attend Habitat III, which takes place in Quito in October 2016.
Both the President and the Secretary-General will make remarks, but no questions will be taken.
At noon, I will be joined by our friend Toby Lanzer, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel, who has just returned from north-eastern Nigeria and will be here to talk to you about Boko Haram.
And for the honour roll we thank today our friends from Timor-Leste, which makes it the 66 Member State [to have paid the regular budget in full].
**Questions and Answers
Spokesman: Excellent. You get the first question, if you have one.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On Burundi, there was an article yesterday in the Guardian saying the world looks away as blood flows in Burundi. As an answer to that, what is the UN doing? Is the police… the UN police enough? And why not peacekeepers? And I know this is a Security Council aspect, but what is the… the SG doing regarding to… [inaudible]
Spokesman: Well, as you know, Burundi has been an issue that the Secretary‑General has very much been focused on. He was there recently. The Council just approved an expanded UN presence, which obviously includes UN police. We will be sending proposals to the Council very shortly to give more details on what that presence would look like and, obviously, a timeline. I think, whether it’s the Secretary‑General or the High Commissioner for Human Rights, we have been expressing our increased concern at the political situation and the violence that we’ve seen in Burundi. And I think many parts of the UN system have tried to help shine a light on what is going on in the country. Edie?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Two questions: First, we saw the statement from the UN envoy in Yemen. Does the Secretary‑General have any message to the parties in Yemen? And, secondly, on the Central African Republic, when are we going to get some updated details on the findings of this investigation in Kemo?
Spokesman: Sure. On your first question, I think the message is very clear. All the parties need to abide by and respect the cessation of hostilities. It’s critical, obviously, first and foremost, for the people of Yemen themselves, so we can start immediately enhanced humanitarian distribution. And it is critical to the positive atmosphere that we hope will exist at the talks that will start in Kuwait on 18 April. The… on your second question, we hope to share more details with you as soon as we can. Obviously, you know, we’ve had preliminary work done. OIOS will be going there on the ground. The difficulties… the logistical difficulties in the area also cannot be understated. From what I’m told, there’s electricity about two hours a day. It’s… The only communications are sat phones, so the communications with the teams on the ground are a little challenging as well. But we’re trying to harvest as much… as many numbers as we can for you and to try to bring a little clarity as to where we are on the number of allegations. Michelle?
Question: Thanks, Steph. A follow‑up to Edie’s question: The preliminary… preliminary assessment that you said OIOS have, can you share that with us? And on Yemen, what’s the UN assessment of the cessation of hostilities so far?
Spokesman: The cessation of hostilities is… seems to be largely holding. I think we’ve seen some pockets of… some pockets of violence, but it seems to be largely holding. Obviously, it’s a good sign that our colleagues at UNICEF have managed to kick off this three‑day vaccination period, but we would like… I think it’s… it’s an important… as I told Edie, it’s a very important step in advance of the talks that are going on in… that will be going on in Kuwait on 18 April. As to the assessment, I don’t have any more numbers to share with you. I think what I said… and I hope I said it clearly… is that OIOS would be sending an expanded team of about 10 people to the area. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, I guess, on that same topic, this morning, there was a press conference by Paula Donovan of Code Blue and Yasmin Sooka, who was on the panel to look at these things. And they were highly critical of how the UN is going about it in CAR and elsewhere. They were saying that the interviews that are taking place are inappropriate. They describe them as essentially being… grilling victims to try to disprove their accounts. They said there’s a conflict of interest for the UN to be doing the interviews; they should be done independently. And they also called on the Secretary‑General to turn over… to turn over the cases of civilian staff members charged with sexual abuse in CAR to the authorities and to take D… going forward to take DNA samples of civilian UN staff when they fired them. What’s your view?
Spokesman: Well, first of all, I would disagree respectfully with Ms. Donovan. I think extreme care is being taken when interviewing victims of… alleged victims of sexual violence and abuse. Our colleagues at UNICEF and other agencies who are dealing with this issue know how to do their job. The last thing anyone wants to do is to victimize these young women, because they’re mostly women, and, unfortunately, a lot of them are minors a second time. So, you know, Ms. Donovan can say… express her opinion. That’s fine. But I would strongly rebut that. Second of all, I don’t think anyone… I think, if you look at the way we’ve come out with the information on this specific case, where I think every step of the way we’ve said we’re sending a team and so forth, I don’t think anyone is trying to bury these cases and trying to make them go away. On the contrary, we’re just trying to seek out the truth. On the issue of civilians, I’m not… I don’t completely understand what you’re saying, because, obviously, if there is a criminal case to be had with any UN civilian, that is… that may have acted improperly, those cases are turned over to their… usually to their native country, so…
Question: She was saying to the CAR authorities. But I guess what I’m saying… [inaudible]
Spokesman: And I would add that the CAR authorities, the Minister of Justice, the Prime Minister have all been kept… and the prosecutors have been kept very well aware and updated on all these developments.
Question: Just overall she said, even, for example, the involvement of UNICEF, she said the UN as an entity that’s actually… stands accused of being… being part of the problem to be doing the investigation is a conflict. She also pointed specifically… and I’d like to get your answer to this… on the Sangaris force, a recent French investigation into the… the allegations of bestiality being cleared so quickly, she said, is proof of the French authorities being… them saying we haven’t found evidence of it as proof of a desire to go in quickly and say none of it’s true.
Spokesman: I think the French have to speak for themselves. I think there is absolutely no desire… in fact, it’s quite the opposite… on the part of the United Nations, we want to get to the bottom of it, and we want to make sure those who suffered have their tormenters punished to the fullest extent of the law. And Ms. … and no doubt Ms. Donovan will continue to have her opinions, but I don’t agree with any of them. Yes? Thank you.
Question: Thank you. Stéphane, leading member of the opposition in Syria is concerned about and has warned the ceasefire is on the brink of collapse and is accusing the Government of resuming the use of barrel bombs. What can the Secretary has said about that or… I mean, we’re just days from the new talks…
Spokesman: I think it’s… I don’t have any particular reports of the use of barrel bombs. What is clear is that, especially in the days leading up to the resumption of the talks on 13 April, it is even more important that the cessation of hostilities be respected by one and all. It’s a big confidence‑building measure for the people of Syria, and we need to keep them, first and foremost, in our mind, not only for the humanitarian distribution, but also that they see that these conferences and these meetings and these talks actually have real results.
Question: Follow‑up with the same question. There are reports that the Russian Federation issued a statement saying that the battle for Aleppo, to restore Aleppo, is going to be starting soon in coordination with the Syrian Government. Do you have any information on that?
Spokesman: As I said… I don’t have any particular information, but, again, I would go back to what I just said, which is it is extremely important, especially in the days and hours before the resumption of the talks that the cessation of hostilities be respected. Evelyn?
Question: Do you have any specific information of why there had to be airdrops in Syria? While they seem to be rather successful, it’s a very expensive way.
Spokesman: Well, I think the airdrops are a last resort. You know, each… you can feed so many more people for so much longer time with truck convoys. I mean…
Question: Well, who refused them?
Spokesman: The… obviously, the security access was not there for WFP to reach people in Deir Ezzour. The airdrops are expensive. They’re dangerous. They can be imprecise. And that’s why they really are an option of last resort. I mean, we’ve waited… as you know, there was a first attempt a few weeks ago. WFP’s working… been working diligently to try to restart them. This is the first of a series, we very much hope. But it takes a lot of practice, and it takes time. And these things are, obviously, much more expensive than truck convoys.
Question: And do they have to be cleared?
Spokesman: Well, obviously, you know, air operations… you know, as a rule, the UN clears flights with whatever de facto authorities, but you can just overlay that… an air operation that is taking place in what is, by all accounts, an active conflict zone where there are a lot of different air forces operating in the area. So everyone was… there was well, well coordinated, and we’re happy that it took place, but again, it’s a last resort. We would want to see trucks be able to deliver this aid by road, if at all possible. Yes?
Question: Thank you. The Government of Japan is inviting UN Secretary‑General to G7 [Group of Seven] outreach meeting, which will be held next month in Japan. Will he be participating in it?
Spokesman: The… we don’t announce the Secretary‑General’s trips that far ahead of time, but obviously, for the Secretary‑General, the participation in the G7 summits is a very important one in the outreach session, and I know the invitation has been received.
Question: The Yemeni Government said that they sent a letter to the SG saying that… that the Government commits to respect the cessation of hostilities. Have you received the letter? And have you received a similar letter from the Houthis?
Spokesman: I haven’t seen the letter, but I know commitments were received by the Special Envoy, and I think that’s why he felt comfortable enough to actually announce the start of the cessation of hostilities. Signore?
Question: Yes, Stéphane. Is the Special Envoy of Libya, Mr. [Martin] Kobler, involved in mediation with the Egypt Government to solve the crisis of the Tripoli Government, or is this an independent initiative from Egypt?
Spokesman: I don’t know, to tell you the truth. I will check what… if any involvement there is. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I want to ask about Burundi, South Sudan and then something about this OIOS audit. In Burundi, there… lot of people are raising a concern. They’ve seen and published a letter of… where the… the… DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) is reimbursing the Government for its peacekeepers, but there seems to have been a change of payee. Used to be paid to the Burundian National Bank, and now it’s being paid to a bank in Paris and maybe either, you know, referring to these Panama Papers or to other things, they’re wondering what due diligence does the UN do when a Government submits a change of bank to be paid? And… and how common is it for a country to have its peacekeeper funds paid to… to… to a bank in another country?
Spokesman: I don’t know. I don’t have access to the de… the banking details of Member States, but I do know that, you know, if we receive information from a permanent mission, then I assume… and the bank appears to be legitimate, I assume we pay. And we would also expect that the money for these people, that the intended recipients of the money, the peacekeepers, also receive it.
Question: I’m just wondering if there are any kind of… like, I mean, if they said, wire it to Cayman Islands, would you do that?
Spokesman: I don’t know.
Question: Okay. I wanted to ask you, on South Sudan, there’s a… there’s an inquiry by Radio Tamazuj which talks about… it quotes the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights saying that any… that working with the Government may result or increase human rights violations. But then it says that, in recent months, various parts of the UN system in South Sudan have been doing just that, and they give a lot of examples. And I just wanted to know, can you state or find… what is the UN’s current position on… I mean, there was a Security Council resolution specifically pulling back from… from… from sort of partnering with the Government and taking a more limited role. Has there been some policy change within the UN or…
Spokesman: Not that I’m aware of. Obviously, wherever we are, we have to work with the host countries while keeping true to the ideals and our guiding principles.
Question: Right. Some people are also saying… what’s the status of the Malakal investigation? Some people are saying that the Government… given its stated role of… [inaudible]
Spokesman: The Malakal investigation, as we’ve said, from our end will be made public.
Question: Okay. When?
Spokesman: It’s under way.
Question: Okay. Speaking of this inquiry, this OIOS inquiry, I want to ask you something. One of the entities controlled by Mr. Ng Lap Seng is World Harmony Foundation. I don’t know if it was you or Farhan [Haq] last week that said it’s still a member of the Global Compact, but it also seems to partner with DPI (Department of Public Information) through something… is associated through something called Friends of the United Nations, which, in looking into it, is… seems to be based in Santa Monica, California. It’s a little unclear. Can you say what… what… number one, is this one of the ground balls that you guys are going to be running down, in terms of what other groups enter through that way? Also, what explains World Harmony Foundation six months after the indictment still being part of the Global Compact? And final… one other Global Compact question. The audit specifically says that, of the iPads given out at the Macau event in August, there was one… the representative of the Global Compact didn’t… has not returned it, said that he’s not going to return it. He’s not a staff member and he’s keeping it. It’s right in the audit. And so I wanted to know, since the Global Compact said it’s about transparency, anticorruption, is this okay? And why isn’t he a staff member if he’s representing the Global Compact?
Spokesman: I don’t know. That’s a question you should… in terms of World Harmony, whether or not they’re still a member, is a question you can ask of the Global Compact. Obviously, as we said, the audit is an initial step, and other issues are being pursued.
Question: But are they going… I mean, I guess Global Compact, UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), are they going to hold a press conference?
Spokesman: You should ask them. They have press people, like the Secretariat, and they’re there to answer questions.
Question: And the Secretary‑General, you said he’ll be in the room tomorrow, but he won’t speak. Looking at the list of press conferences, it seems like the last one was December of last year…
Spokesman: He will have… there will be some sort of a press conference… there will be a press conference, probably on Friday, tied to the climate event. Mr. Thomas. You have the floor, as they say.