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

23 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.

Good afternoon, everyone.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General is in Havana today where he is, as we speak, about to witness the signing of a ceasefire and the laying down of arms between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People's Army (FARC-EP).  In separate meetings with the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, which is happening right now, and the commander of the FARC-EP, Timoleón Jiménez, also known as Timoshenko, the Secretary-General noted that the agreement was a clear demonstration of the parties’ commitment to reach a Final Peace Agreement in the near future.

With the President and the commander, he also discussed pending matters in the negotiations, as well as ongoing preparations for the deployment of the UN Mission in Colombia.  As you know, the Mission will start operating as soon as the Final Peace Agreement is signed, under the leadership of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Jean Arnault.  He also met with President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela and commended Venezuela for its role in the Colombian peace process.  He called for an inclusive political dialogue in Venezuela.  This afternoon, the Secretary-General will leave Havana to start his official visit to France on Friday.


Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, spoke to reporters in Geneva today and said that he would be traveling to New York and Washington, D.C., next week before speaking to the Security Council on 29 June.  He noted that technical talks have been taking place in Cairo and in Moscow, with more scheduled in Riyadh and other locations if and when required. He said that the technical talks have been very useful, being calm, quiet and discreet while providing substantive points that can be useful when the next round of intra-Syrian talks take place.

His Special Adviser, Jan Egeland, briefed the press on our humanitarian efforts, noting that the United Nations has so far this month been able to reach 8 out of the 18 besieged areas and hopes to reach at least 7 more in the next week.  So far, 16 out of the 18 besieged areas have been reached since the task force started work in February.  He added that humanitarian workers hope to get access to the two remaining ones, Arbeen and Zamalka, both in rural Damascus, by next week.

And Stephen O’Brien informed the Security Council today that, since January of this year, nearly 850,000 people in Syria have been reached and provided with aid by the UN and its partners, including some 330,000 of the nearly 600,000 people living in besieged areas.  While that represents progress, he warned that it is but a trickle compared to the protection needs of people in hard-to-reach and besieged areas.  His remarks are available in our office.


The UN and our partners are working around the clock to provide humanitarian assistance from people fleeing the fighting in Fallujah, Iraq.  Since 22 May, the United Nations and partners have delivered more than 3,400 tents.  Some 21,000 packages of basic household items have been distributed, as have 8,800 cooking stoves.  Some 34,000 packages of ready-to-eat food, bottled water and hygiene supplies, sufficient to aid people for up to five days, have been distributed to people on the move, as they arrive to safe territory.

Infrastructure works to expand clean water and sanitation facilities are ongoing in all sites, with dozens of latrines, showers, water tanks, and water treatment and purification units being installed.  Water trucking is also ongoing in all areas.  The number of displaced people and the pace of their arrival have stretched the humanitarian capacities.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that $65 million is required to provide assistance in Fallujah.  This week, $15 million has been approved by the Central Emergency Response Fund and the United States announced a contribution of $20 million to UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees].  The humanitarian appeal for 2016 requested $861 million — it is only funded at 36 per cent, or $309 million.

**Saudi Arabia

You’ll have seen that we issued a readout of the Secretary-General’s meeting yesterday with the Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defence of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  You’d been asking us about the report concerning Children and armed conflict, and as the readout made clear, the Secretary-General and the Deputy Crown Prince discussed putting into place concrete measures that could improve the situation on the ground for the protection of civilians and children in Yemen.  The Secretary-General expressed the hope that by the time he presents the Children and armed conflict report to the Security Council in August, he could point to progress on the protection of children and civilians in Yemen.


And yesterday afternoon, we also issued the following statement attributable for the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on Sudan’s declaration of the cessation of hostilities in Blue Nile and South Kordofan States:  The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement by the Government of Sudan of a four-month unilateral cessation of hostilities, beginning on 18 June, in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan states.  He also welcomes the six-month unilateral cessation of hostilities declared by the Sudan Revolutionary Forces in the Two Areas and Darfur on 28 April.  These commitments should ease the suffering of the people living in the affected areas. The Secretary-General urges the parties to allow and facilitate urgently needed humanitarian access to these areas.

The Secretary General reiterates his call for the Parties which have not signed the road map proposed by the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel to do so, and to continue talks with the Government of Sudan and other parties engaged in dialogue inside Sudan to reach agreement on a process for final peace through inclusive national dialogue.


Earlier this morning, the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, spoke at the third annual session of the Peacebuilding Commission.  He urged Member States, including the Security Council, to make full use of the potential of the Commission and its advisory role in preventing violent conflict.  He added that Member States need to rethink the scope of peacebuilding and consider ways in which they, too, can bring a greater level of coherence to efforts to sustain peace.

Highlighting the importance of the Peacebuilding Fund, which was created to provide quick funding for critical peacebuilding initiatives, he said that its resources are currently insufficient to ensure necessary longer-term and larger scale support.  He called on all Member States to attend and contribute generously to the Fund during a pledging conference that will be held in September.  His full remarks are available online.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is concerned by the Government of Ukraine's decision to relocate two key checkpoints in Donetsk closer to the contact line, as this puts civilians at further risk of mortar shelling and sniper fire.  Some 430,000 people crossed the two crossings — Zaitseve and Novotroitske — in May alone.

On 22 June, more than 32,000 pedestrians and 4,600 vehicles passed through the five crossings, according to the State Border Guards.  These civilians often wait in long queues for as long as 36 hours, with little access to basic services or drinking water.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs again calls on the de facto authorities of Donetsk and Luhansk to provide the UN and international NGOs immediate and unimpeded access to people in need.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) assessment conducted on 21 June in Bama, located in Nigeria’s Borno State, found that in the past month at least 188 people have died and an estimated 19 per cent of 800 children examined are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.  Water, sanitation and hygiene services are now being provided and there is also a clinic for basic health care.  The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is running a centre for severely malnourished children, but the needs are staggering. The World Food Programme (WFP) has also pre-positioned food in Bama for distribution.


And I have an appointment.  The Secretary-General has appointed Ivan Šimonović of Croatia as his Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect.  Mr. Šimonović succeeds Jennifer Welsh of Canada, to whom the Secretary-General is deeply grateful for her exceptional leadership and advice on the development and implementation of the responsibility to protect.

Mr. Šimonović is currently Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and Head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in New York.  He intends to pursue a career in academia while taking up this assignment on 1 October.  In his role as the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, Mr. Šimonović will work under the overall guidance of the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide to further the political, institutional and operational development of the responsibility to protect principle, as set out by the General Assembly in paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome document.

**World Food Programme

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today welcomed a contribution from the Government of Sweden to support its Humanitarian Air Service operations in Sudan.  The Swedish contribution, of approximately $600,000, will allow the agency to continue running air services to vulnerable communities across Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan.

**Yellow Fever

The World Health Organization (WHO) will launch emergency pre-emptive vaccination campaigns along the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola, as well as in Kinshasa, to prevent the risk of further spread of the yellow fever epidemic.  Ahead of the initial phase of the campaign, which is expected to begin in July, more than 15 million doses of vaccine have been delivered to Angola and the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo].  However, the urgent need to accelerate vaccination campaigns and the lack of sufficient funds for field operational activities remain a challenge in both countries, warns WHO.  And more information is available on WHO’s website.


Today is international Widows Day.  In his comments marking the day, the Secretary-General says widows are often stigmatized by their families and communities.  Many suffer discrimination based on age and gender and live lives marked by physical and sexual abuse.  Older widows often have few economic assets, after a lifetime of hard but unpaid work.  He said:  “Let us pledge to make widows more visible in our societies, and to support them in living productive, equal and fulfilling lives.”   The full text is online.


And the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in its annual report that is out today, says that the impact of drug use in terms of health consequences continues to be devastating.  In the report, Yury Fedotov, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, highlights what he calls an alarming rise in heroin use in some areas.  He said heroin continues to be the drug that kills the most people.

In remarks at the launch of the report, the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, said drug trafficking and organized criminal networks undermine institutions and the rule of law by fueling violence and feeding corruption.  You will have a chance to pursue this further, after this briefing, with the guest, our colleague Jean-Luc Lemahieu of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, who will be here to answer your questions once we are done with this part.  Anything for me?  Yes, Anna.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  My question is exactly on this last topic that you last mentioned: antidrug policies.  We'll know this Sunday United Nations will be promoting anti-drugs day, and also you mentioned these terrible statistics.  Many experts think that actually decriminalization of drug industry would make it easier to control it and would destroy the horrific black market that kills people on a daily basis.  And, for example, if we take examples… Portugal has decriminalized all kinds of drug use 15 years ago, and there was no raise in, you know, usage of drugs, no more death and things like that.  And many other countries like Mexico, Colombia or Venezuela, the ones that are plagued most by drug use, especially illegal drug trafficking and stuff, they were actually asking UN, UNODC, to take this into consideration.  What is UN's stance on this?  Do you even consider to listen to these people?  Because I think one of the main principles of United Nations is to listen to what's going on, you know, in particular places.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, those are certainly interesting points that you've raised, but what I'll do for now, since we're fortunate to have with us Jean‑Luc Lemahieu as the guest following this briefing is to leave any answers on that to our guest, who is going to be really the expert on this.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Farhan, on this meeting of the Secretary‑General with the Saudi Crown Prince yesterday, number one, he was late by 45 minutes.  Was there any particular reason for his delay?  And other thing, did he assure the Secretary‑General that this… that… I mean, he was expressing his concern over UN putting him and the Coalition on the blacklist.  Was he assured by the Secretary‑General that it will not be done again and this so‑called blackmail will work?

Deputy Spokesman:  I… no, the issue wasn't framed in that.  I think you will have seen the readout.  I read from it in… a little bit earlier on before you entered the room.  But, just to let you know, regarding the issue of protecting children and civilians in the armed conflict in Yemen, the Secretary‑General and the Deputy Crown Prince discussed putting into place concrete measures that could improve the situation on the ground.  The Secretary‑General expressed the hope that, by the time he presents the Children and armed conflict report to the Security Council in August, he could point to progress on the protection of children and civilians in Yemen.  And the Secretary‑General said he remains open to receiving any new elements from Saudi Arabia and hopes the discussions would take place soon.  So, those discussions are ongoing, and as you know, the Secretary‑General spoke extensively about this with you in his press encounter just a couple of weeks ago.

Correspondent:  But, on the Palestinians, did the Secretary‑General receive assurances from the Saudis that they will not cut off the funding and so forth?

Deputy Spokesman:  I would leave it to the Saudis to express what their Deputy Crown Prince had said.  We've given a fairly full readout, which I would refer you to regarding that.

Question:  Same topic?  Sure.  I guess I just… I mean, I read it several times, and it seemed to… it seemed to say, if you provide positive information, then the text of the report or what's presented to the Council could be modified from what it says.

Deputy Spokesman:  No.

Question:  All right.  So, then… explain to me, because it doesn't say specifically… the understanding was when he temporarily took them off the annex was that, if they don't provide positive information, they will go back on the annex.  Is that the case?

Deputy Spokesman:  What we said at the time was that they're off pending review, and that remains the case right now.  They were removed from the list pending review.  We made it clear, in the discussions and as the readout says, that we're open to receiving any new elements from Saudi Arabia.  And, again, we hope that discussions would take place soon.

Question:  Is there a deadline for them, either providing this information or not, have them going back on the list?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as… as the readout makes clear, we're… we have expressed the hope that, by the time the Secretary‑General presents the Children and armed conflict report to the Security Council, which is in August, that he can point to some progress on the issue of protecting civilians.

Question:  Does that mean that they would go back on the list if they don't provide anything by August?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not going to make any predictions beyond what we've said here.  What we've said here makes clear that what we want is a sign of progress by August.

Question:  Do you have anything on John Ashe…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Hold on, please.  Yes.  Hold on, please.

Question:  Farhan, you did not answer.  I asked about this, why was the Saudi foreign minister or Prince delayed by 45 minutes?  Was he sending a message, or it was just one of those traffic problems?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think you should ask the Saudi Permanent Mission the reasons for that.  We don't control his schedule.  He showed up when he did, and as you can see, they had a fairly full discussion once he was there.

Correspondent:  But, it's deemed as a snub to the Secretary‑General that he was… when he was late.

Deputy Spokesman:  The way meetings work at the UN is that some of them are very prompt.  Some of them are not.  In this case, the Secretary‑General was able to conduct his entire schedule for the day without any hindrance, so I don't see that as any particular problem.

Question:  Do you…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.  Hold on, please.  Yes.  Now you.

Question:  I guess I… you may have some… some statement prepared.  Does the Secretary‑General have any statement on the… on the death of former President of the General Assembly John Ashe yesterday?

Deputy Spokesman:  Oh, well, certainly, he was saddened by the passing of John Ashe.  He is writing a letter of condolence to Ambassador Ashe's wife, and so that will express his sorrow at his passing and his condolences.

Question:  Sure.  President… current PGA [President of the General Assembly] [Mogens] Lykketoft in the statement that he put out said these charges hadn't been proven but that… that… that… you know, he'd done some previous service.  And I know the incoming PGA had said that the John Ashe case is a serious blow to the UN.  So, I'm wondering, is there any nexus… either in his letter or here from this podium what's… what's your reflection on the way that this leaves the case still pending in the Southern District involving UN bribery?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, obviously, the case is a separate matter and I believe that that would still go on.  We will continue to cooperate as best we can with the relevant authorities as they go about their investigation into this.  And we certainly hope that they get to the bottom of this particular issue.  Yes.  Anna?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I have two questions, one regarding Secretary‑General's meeting actually with Saudi Prince.  You didn't say anything about this.  Did he get to mention to the Prince about human rights violations within the Saudi Arabia itself, especially dealing with freedom of speech, like imprisoning bloggers, journalists, reporters, stuff like that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have anything further on that to say beyond what we had in the readout.  As you can see, it was a fairly lengthy discussion, a fairly lengthy readout, but I don't have anything further.  Yes?

Correspondent:  And my second question…

Deputy Spokesman:  Hold on.  She has a second question.  Hold on.  She has one and then you.

Question:  Thank you.  I'll be quick.  I asked you previously about the refugees… Syrian refugees that were shot by guards on the border of Turkey… by Turkish guards, and you said that you did not have any information confirming this.  So, I will drop this particular incident.  I will ask a general question.  I will rephrase it.  There were 60 confirmed incidents of refugees who were murdered, shot dead by Turkish guards, or they were trying to cross a border illegally to Turkey, Syrian refugees.  And most of them were women and children.  Well, according to UN's 1951 Convention — very own UN Convention on Refugees — the refugees cannot be penalized let alone shot dead, especially let alone kids, you know, even if they cross the borders illegally.  So, is UN going to do anything about this?  Because… because this is in direct violation of UN's own Convention from 1951, Article 31, if I'm not mistaken.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we certainly want all countries, all Member States, to abide by the Refugee Convention and that certainly includes allowing refugees the freedom of movement and the ability to move safely and without fear from country to country, and we implore all nations to do that.  Yes?

Question:  Yes.  Farhan, on the Secretary‑General's visit to Cuba, does he intend to meet with Fidel Castro, and did he ask for a meeting with Fidel Castro?

Deputy Spokesman:  He's not asked for a meeting with Fidel Castro.  His time is actually fairly limited.  He's only going to be there for a few hours more.  I'm not aware of whether he will be able to meet with President Raúl Castro, but if he does have that meeting, we'll try to issue a readout later in the afternoon.  Evelyn, you had a question?

Question:  Yes.  On Mr. O'Brien's report this morning… statement this morning, he emphasized again that aid is distributed and then Syria comes after… follows it up with some barrel bombs or other shellings.  Is anybody else that you have in your records sniping at the… or shelling the areas where the aid is delivered right after the aid's delivered?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think I will let Mr. O'Brien's words speak for themselves.  I think he laid out the case as clearly as one needs to.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, I wanted to ask, I… I'd hoped to get this to… to get Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous to answer on this, but… again, I wanted to ask about MSF and others have said that the problems concerned were not just the reaction of the three contingents in Malakal on the days of the incident but were a sort of more pervasive problem within UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] of not policing the entry of deadly weapons into… into… into the camp.  And so, I wanted to know, it wasn't… you know, afterwards, he spoke entirely about the troops.  Some people have reported that he's going to repatriate.  I wanted you to respond to that, if, in fact, that is what he was saying, is he going to send people home.  And he seemed to indicate that the UN's reports are now delayed by be looked at by lawyers.  And so what exactly… what's the timeline for the reports being released?  Will they be released in full?  And what are the lawyers looking at in terms… are they redacting things?  What's purpose of this final review?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  There's a normal review process that all reports go through, and this is part of that process.  I think I made it clear that the Board of Inquiry is being finalized, and I presented some of the information from that just yesterday.  And at the stakeout, Mr. Ladsous made clear that there will be some individuals who are going to be sent back.  So, there will be a repatriation of some of the people for… who have been found to have been responsible for some of the problems that were detected.

Question:  Well, there are quotes in The Guardian saying that entire contingents were absent or… one was sleeping.  One didn't respond and called their capital.  And one responded only when shown a written order.  Is it the whole contingent or just a few individuals?

Deputy Spokesman:  In some cases, it's entirely possible that a contingent could be sent back.  And, and…

Correspondent:  I have a related…  Go ahead.

Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding the earlier question about this, the… each of the reports goes through a fairly standard process, and then so this is where we're at.  But, we're at the process of having it finalized.

Question:  But, it will be released in full?  Is that…?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'll have to see.  Board of Inquiry reports are internal documents.  We'll put out whatever we can.  Like I said, I shared some of the details with you just yesterday, and we'll see whether we can have something more.

Question:  Can I ask another repatriation question?  I wanted… I'd asked before Stéphane [Dujarric], and now I have a little bit more.  On the Burundians that are in CAR [Central African Republic], the police contingent, we were told, will return in July and not be replaced in Burundi.  There are 800 troops that are supposed to run… their term runs out in September.  And I've been told that now Mr. Ladsous has met with Mr. Shingiro, and it seems that they're going to be replaced from Burundi, that he's asked them for names and commanders of those who would return in September.  Is it accurate to say that the police are not being ret… are not coming back to CAR, but the troops, in fact, are?  And, if so, what's the difference in terms of the human rights decision?

Deputy Spokesman:  There is a difference in terms of the relative positions of responsibility regarding the human rights problems that we have determined in Burundi.  As a result of that, it was believed that it would not be appropriate to have Burundian police, and so they are being sent back without replacement.

Question:  Right.  So, the finding is that the soldiers are not implicated in the human rights problems in Burundi.

Deputy Spokesman:  There's a difference in terms of what was found to be the responsibility.  This is something that we believe is a problem applying to the use of Burundian police.  Let me get our guests.  Oh, wait.  One more.  Yes?

Question:  Sorry, Farhan.  Does the Secretary‑General have any plans to follow up his statement about the North Korean ballistic missile tests in any way making any phone calls, trying to generate any… any kind of possible pressure on the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea]?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General's views have been expressed from this podium.  And beyond that, as you know, the Security Council also has a role to play in dealing with the question of the DPRK.  So, we'll leave the matter in their hands.  Yes.  Yes, Go?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Regarding the visit to the Middle East, since he's passing by France, can we interpret it that he will try to somehow to convey the message of French Government to both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to… to… to follow the French initiative?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, it's not directly linked in that sort of way.  I think the Secretary‑General has made his views about the French Government's initiative known during his visit there just a couple of weeks back.  And so I'd just leave you with what he said at that point.  You know, he already conveyed at that point that he did intend to bring some of the views that were expressed at that conference on his travels.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Just one little final question.  Since Britons are currently voting whether to stay in EU [European Union] or not, what is UN's general approach to this?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe, at this stage, I'll wait until after the results have come out, and I expect that we'll have a statement one way or another.  And with that, let me get to our guest.

For information media. Not an official record.