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

3 June 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary‑General attended the French ministerial conference meeting on the Middle East peace process in Paris today, telling the gathered officials that, although they all agree that a two‑State solution is the only viable option for a sustainable peace, the two‑State solution is at great risk.  He said that the obstacles to peace are clear.  They include terror, violence and the incitement that fuel them; the ongoing settlement enterprise; and the lack of unity between Gaza and the West Bank.

He said that meaningful negotiations require leadership on both sides with the courage and legitimacy to reach an historic compromise, and the political will to implement it. Both parties must ensure that their actions reflect their stated commitment to a two‑State solution.  Both parties need to stand up to extremists who are committed to derailing the peace process and seeking to hijack the agenda.

The Secretary‑General added that he is planning to visit Israel and the State of Palestine around the end of this month to follow up on today’s discussions.

On the margins of the meeting, the Secretary‑General met with US Secretary of State John Kerry.  They discussed international peace and security issues, including efforts to address the political crises in Syria, Libya, Yemen and progress on the upcoming Quartet Report and the importance of the Arab Peace Initiative as a platform for advancing Israeli‑Palestinian and Arab‑Israeli peace.

And the Secretary‑General met today with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.  They discussed a wide range of issues, including the loss of a Chinese peacekeeper in Mali, the Middle East peace process and the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

On the last topic, the Secretary‑General noted that the situation on the Korean Peninsula remains of grave concern and the Secretary‑General and the Foreign Minister discussed ways to break the current cycle of provocations.  All the readouts and remarks are available online.

**Security Council

The Security Council, in its consultations this morning, heard an update on the situation in Syria from the Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, and from the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien.

As you’re aware, we continue with our efforts to get humanitarian aid to people in besieged and hard‑to‑reach areas in Syria.  Today, an interagency convoy returned to Moadamiyeh in rural Damascus with food assistance completing the 1 June delivery for some 45,000 Syrian men, women and children in need.

We continue to strongly advocate for food aid to be delivered to Darayya as soon as possible to complete the 1 June delivery that provided medicine, vaccines and nutritional items for children.  The situation in Darayya is dire, characterized by severe shortages of food, medicine, medical equipment and supplies, health facilities and personnel.

The UN continues to call for unconditional, unimpeded and sustained access to all men, women and children in besieged and hard-to-reach locations across Syria, particularly the 1.1 million people who we requested access to in June.

**Yemen

The prisoners and detainee issue took centre stage in the sessions of the Yemeni Peace Talks that took place yesterday in Kuwait.  The two delegations exchanged their respective lists of prisoners through the office of the UN Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.  The parties in the Prisoners Committee continued discussing a draft principles agreement, in view of finalizing it in the coming days.

Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed said that the past few days have witnessed movement in the political process on a number of issues.  He said that we are close to a settlement, but success is dependent on the willingness of the parties to provide concessions, which is what he is aiming to achieve in the coming days.

**COPS

And as we told you yesterday, the first‑ever United Nations Chiefs of Police Summit — UN COPS — is taking place today here at Headquarters.

In a video message to the Summit, the Secretary‑General said that United Nations Police work in some of the most challenging situations on earth, protecting communities, bringing stability and restoring confidence.

He said that UN COPS was a chance to further ensure that United Nations Police become ever more “fit for purpose” — and able to meet the security threats in today’s volatile global context.

For the first time, countries which host and contribute to UN Police, key partners and the UN leadership are joining forces to discuss the complementarity between national and international policing, said the Deputy Secretary‑General, Jan Eliasson, who attended the opening of the Summit.

And let me remind you that the briefing on this Summit by the UN Police Adviser, the Police Commissioner of UNAMID (African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur) and the Inspector General of the Liberian Police has now been rescheduled to 2:30 pm, in this room.

**Ukraine

A new report by the UN Human Rights Office shows that, after two years of conflict, the situation in eastern Ukraine remains volatile and continues to have a severe impact on human rights, especially for people living in the territories controlled by armed groups.

According to the latest report, some 9,371 people have been killed and 21,532 others injured in eastern Ukraine since the conflict began in mid‑April 2014.

Speaking at the launch of the report in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, the UN Assistant Secretary‑General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonovic, said that the situation in eastern Ukraine remains deeply worrying and that without additional efforts to implement the Minsk agreements, it could develop into a “protracted conflict” that would be harmful to human rights for many years to come.

Mr. Šimonovic also highlighted the deteriorating human rights situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.  There’s more information on the Office of the UN High Commissioner’s website.

**Sudan

The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, says that five years after the start of the conflict in Sudan’s South Kordofan State, people are today still fleeing the region, with most crossing into neighbouring South Sudan.

So far in 2016, more than 7,500 refugees have arrived in Yida in South Sudan’s northern Unity State.  Nearly 3,000 people arrived in May alone.  Nearly 90 per cent of new arrivals are women and children.

Refugees speak of escalating violence, including ground attacks and aerial bombings.

At the Yida transit centre, UNHCR and its partners are providing immediate assistance to the arrivals.  From Yida, refugees are transported after a few days by bus to Ajuong Thok, a camp established in 2013 to help ease some of the pressure.  There they are provided with plastic sheeting and poles to build a temporary home.  They also get cooking pots and pans, mosquito nets, blankets, sleeping mats and food.

But with nearly 41,000 Sudanese refugees already living in Ajuong Thok, the camp has almost reached capacity.  UNHCR and its partners have been expanding camp infrastructure to meet the needs of a growing population.

A new camp is under way at Pamir, some 50 kilometres south of the border, to receive new arrivals and refugees who have been living in Yida for the past five years.

The Agency says that as the refugee influx continues, services are becoming overstretched and just 17 per cent of UNHCR’s operations in South Sudan are funded.  There’s more on UNHCR’s website.

**Violent Extremism

Earlier today, the Deputy Secretary‑General, Jan Eliasson, spoke at the high‑level thematic conversation on children and youth affected by violent extremism.

Mr. Eliasson said that children and youth have been tragically and massively affected by violent extremism in recent years.  Many of them, who have been disproportionately affected by inequality, marginalization and unemployment, may be vulnerable to the lure of violent extremists, he added.

The Deputy Secretary‑General stressed that we need to engage and empower our young people to reject the messengers of hate and fear, and instead harness the idealism, energy and innovative power of youth.  His full remarks are available online.

**Olympics

Ten refugee athletes will compete for the Refugee Olympic Team during the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.  The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said that it is the first such team and that its members will march with the Olympic flag immediately after host nation Brazil at the Opening Ceremony on 5 August.

The UN Refugee Agency welcomed the IOC announcement and stressed that the participation of refugee athletes in the Rio Games sends a strong message of support and hope for refugees worldwide.

The team includes two Syrian swimmers, two judokas from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and six runners from Ethiopia and South Sudan.  They all fled violence and persecution in their countries and sought refuge in places as wide‑ranging as Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Kenya and Brazil.

**Earlier Questions

We were asked yesterday about how the Department of Public Information (DPI) complied with the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) audit recommendations about the use of the lobby.  I can say that DPI has implemented the recommendation, as per the report.  DPI sent letters to relevant persons, drawing their attention to the guidelines for the appropriate use of the lobby for events and activities, and reminding them to follow those guidelines and do appropriate vetting before events.

We were also asked about the UN Relief and Works Agency’s (UNRWA) services in the northern part of the West Bank.  UNRWA has informed us that it was forced to suspend services because of threats and intimidation against humanitarian workers.  The Agency has called on those who have issues with its new e‑card system to come forward and resolve those issues peacefully and constructively.

**Burundi

On Burundi, we have been asked about the 15‑day ultimatum given by the President to armed groups to surrender. We stress once again that the crisis in Burundi is a political crisis, which will be resolved only through a political solution.

The Secretary‑General urges all stakeholders to commit to a genuine, inclusive dialogue, in order to move forward with resolving this crisis.

And in response to other questions regarding the Burundian police units currently serving in the Central African Republic, we have the following to say:  In light of the current situation in Burundi, a decision has been taken at UN Headquarters not to replace the units serving in the country when their tour of duty ends.

This decision has been communicated to the Burundian Permanent Mission to the UN in New York.

**World Environment Day

On the eve of World Environment Day, which is on Sunday, 5 June, we have a statement of the Executive Director of the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yury Fedotov.  And in a short while, I will be joined by Elliot Harris, the Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Office in New York.  He will brief you ahead of World Environment Day and he will have a little bit of a presentation for you on that video screen.

**Press Briefings

Like I said, at 2:30 p.m., the UN COPS briefing will take place this afternoon.

On Monday at 11:00 a.m., there will be a briefing here sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Switzerland on The Small Arms Survey’s "Trade Update 2016: Transfers and Transparency", which features the latest figures on the world’s top and major exporters and importers of small arms and light weapons.

At 1 p.m., there will be a press briefing on the Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

And then at 1:30 p.m., there will be a briefing by the Habitat III Secretariat entitled "Habitat III Updates and the Role of Stakeholders in the New Urban Agenda".  Speakers will include Dr. Joan Clos, Secretary‑General of the Habitat III Conference.

**Questions and Answers

That’s it from me.  Any questions before we go to our guest?

Question:  Thanks for the answer on the Burundian police decision.  I just wanted, in order to understand it, when you say in light of the situation, is this because the police would be needed back in Burundi given unrest, or is it because of the alleged human rights violations of the Burundian police in Burundi?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's the latter.  This was done after a study of the issue, including by our own Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Question:  Just another Burundi question.

Deputy Spokesman:  Sure.  One more and then we go.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, there's been a situation… at least in Burundi, widely reported, of students being… actually live fire being directed at students for defacing a picture of Pierre Nkurunziza in their textbook.  Basically, some people have been arrested.  There's… there's a lot of outcry about it.  I just wondered, particularly now that it's said that the UN has its human rights observers, quote, on the ground, are they aware of this?  Are they looking into this?  Do they think the use of bullets against students for defacing a textbook is an appropriate response?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we'd need to look into the details and see whether we could confirm those.  Of course we have our own human rights people examining what's happening on the ground there, but certainly we have been calling again and again for all sides to deal with each other in peaceful and nonviolent ways.  When that comes to the security forces, we've called against any excessive use of force.  And the description you have made would sound like that, but of course we would need to determine what the full details are.  Evelyn and then Abdelhamid.

Question:  Yes.  Can you repeat Darayya, do you know why no food was sent?  Was it not allowed?  And what about surgical equipment?  What was sent and what wasn't sent?

Deputy Spokesman:  As Stéphane [Dujarric] pointed out over the past couple of days, there were some medicines, vaccines, and other things, including nutritional items for infants, that arrived in a first shipment.  We wanted a second convoy to get in that would have the other sorts of items that are needed, including food aid.  That's crucial.  Although it's useful that we were able to get in some medicines, some vaccines, and some of the sorts of items such as infant formula that were needed for some time now, we also need to get in food.

Question:  Food, not just infant formula. 

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Exactly.  The idea is that the first shipment helped about… roughly 22,000 people, including quite a lot of infants and new mothers.  But that is a small proportion of the overall population of about 45,000 people in all, men, women and children alike, that we want to help in Darayya.

Question:  Thank you.  I want to ask about the report of children in armed conflict.  The early hours of Friday, the Secretary‑General added the name of the Arab coalition, the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.  It was added to the list of shame.  It wasn't in the original.  It was added.  I want an explanation why it was added.  That's one.   And last year, Israel's name was there, and it was omitted last minute.  So can you explain the mechanism why the Saudi‑led coalition was added, why in other cases some names which was those known for violating the rights of children have been omitted?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I can't go into overall process of how reports are written year after year.  In this case, the addition was because, in particular, of recurrent attacks on hospitals and medical facilities.  Yes?  Go.

Question:  Thank you.  It's about the air drop in Syria.  Stéphane said yesterday that there are 19 sites where the UN is now considering air drops.  And among them are 15 urban areas.  Could you… where you have to use helicopters.  Can you first confirm this number?  And then also, does the Secretary‑General expect any additional endorsement by the Security Council, which now is discussing it?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Security Council, as you're aware, has been discussing the matter this very morning.  So let's see what they have to say after their meeting is done.  Yes, there were 19 besieged areas that have been identified by the UN.  Now, in 15 of those 19 areas, if we don't get land access, which is the preferred mode of delivering aid, then the only viable option in those areas is helicopter operations, because they're urban and semi-urban.  These areas include Madaya, Darayya, Moadamiyeh and Douma.  Because of the nature of the terrain, high altitude air drops wouldn't be possible without the risk of harming people on the ground or damaging the cargo.  So basically, we would need helicopters to meet the monthly needs of the people trapped in those 15 areas.  There are other areas, like Foah and Kefraya, where you could still have high altitude air drops like the sort of thing that we have pursued.

Question:  Where you can use airplanes, right?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  But like I said, that's only few of the areas.  Most of them are areas where we would need helicopters.

Question:  Okay.  So once again, to clarify the UN's view on that, does the Secretary‑General think that you need more endorsement by the Security Council or… I mean, with the previous resolution, you can go forward? 

Deputy Spokesman:  We're working to implement the mandate provided to us by the Security Council.  Obviously any additional help by the international community, including by the Security Council, is crucial because we have a large number of areas where people are at risk of dying if they do not get the food, the water, the medicine that they need.  We're doing what we can, but it's a very complex terrain.  It's very challenging with the number of fighting forces, and we need all the help and support that we can get.  Yes? 

Question:  The UN is aware of the racism against Africans in India, especially an African student in India.  What is the organization doing to counter this racism before it gets any worse? 

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we weigh in and fight against racism and xenophobia wherever it occurs.  We have always tried to push for programmes that encourage tolerance and understanding.  And a lot of the efforts by the educational parts of the UN system, whether it's the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) or the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), promote those messages of tolerance.  And we would do that in India, as we do elsewhere in the world.

Question:  But the situation is getting actually worse in India.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we would be concerned of any information if that were the case.  But, like I said, what we try to do wherever we go is to encourage messages to promote tolerance and inclusivity in every country.  Yes?

Question:  In the quote you just said from the SG's statement in Paris conference, he put the blame on the derailing of the two‑State solution, and he listed about five or six points.  He started with terrorism, violence, incitement, dissident activities.  Is that a fair characterization of the reason why the two‑State solution is not implemented?  It's long before all that… I mean, the two‑State solution is long [inaudible] has not been implemented.  And now it looks like blaming the victim.  I mean, isn't the mother of all ills is occupation?  Why he doesn't start with that? 

Deputy Spokesman:  I would just refer you to the full text of his statement, which says things about each side and about their responsibilities.  The Secretary‑General sincerely believes that there's things that each of the sides can do to improve the climate for negotiations, and he has fairly strong messages to give to both.  Yes?

Question:  I wanted to ask you about the new President of the Philippines.  A few days ago he said publicly that there's nothing wrong with journalists being killed.  He's essentially defend… he said someone who has written about him should be killed.  He said, "don't F with me" and now he's said, "F the UN."  He's dropped the F‑bomb on the UN.

Deputy Spokesman:  He said something similar in Tagalog.  He didn't quite say that.

Question:  I'm reading a translation.  When a Head of State defends the killing of journalists, I'm asking you now, within the UN, do people already take note of this?  Is there some level of concern?  What's the country team conveying to the new President of the Philippines?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, he is not President of the Philippines yet.  He's the President-elect.  We'll see what his record is like once he enters into office.  But the country team is trying to convey the messages of the positive contributions that the Philippines has made to the United Nations and that the United Nations has made to the Philippines.  We have a strong relationship going for many years, and we would like to see that maintained.  Of course our relations with Member States continue regardless of who is in the Government.  What we expect and trust of all Member States in terms of their dealings with the media is that they will encourage freedom of expression and freedom of the press.  And we would be concerned about any activities that suggest otherwise.  But like I said, this is not an administration that has come into office yet.  We'll see what happens at this point, but right now, what we're trying to do is just make sure at the country team level that there is a strong awareness of the mutually‑beneficial relationship that we can have.  Yes?

Question:  Last question.  I promise.  There was an Arria Formula held about three weeks ago in Palestine.  There were about 70 speakers.  It was not on the UN webcast.  However, when Israel held a meeting in the General Assembly, the issue concerned one State only to speak against BDS (boycott/divestment/sanctions).  It was webcast and recorded officially on the record.  Why is that?

Deputy Spokesman:  There's no coverage of Arria Formula meetings, which are meetings that are called for by individual Member States.  They're not official meetings of UN bodies.

Question:  But that… it was called by one individual State to deal with one issue that concerned one individual State, and it's not shared by the vast majority of the United Nations members.  Why is that?  Why it has to be recorded?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm fully aware of your position, and that event is, like you've mentioned, organized by a Member State.  But it's a separate sort of situation in terms of meetings in the General Assembly Hall, as opposed to the Arria Formula meetings, which have never been public meetings available on the webcast.

Question:  Thanks for the answer about the DPI and the OIOS audit.  I know when the UNDP audit came out, it was said from here that the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) Office of South‑South Cooperation would hold a press conference on it.  Then Stéphane said, ask them about it.  I'm asking you now because I see now in your office the director is going to be appearing in Conference Room A.  So there's clearly not a lack of time.  So I'm wondering, can your office please… given the interest in this corruption scandal in the UN system assert whatever power you have to say it would be a good idea? 

Deputy Spokesman:  We've been in touch with them on this, and we'll continue to try and schedule that as soon as we can.  And with that, let me get to our guest.  Have a good weekend.  Please stick around because we have something interesting.

For information media. Not an official record.