12 July 2016

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

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**South Sudan

On South Sudan, the UN Mission in the country (UNMISS) today welcomed the ceasefire agreement that was announced yesterday.  The Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for South Sudan, Ellen Margrethe Løj, strongly urged all parties to adhere to it and called on South Sudanese leaders to ensure that this order is conveyed through all security forces’ chains of command so that soldiers return to their barracks.

Ms. Løj also urged security forces in Juba to allow unhindered access to UNMISS patrols to protect the civilian population and called on the parties to allow civilians to move freely to places of refuge. She urged the Government to open up corridors to allow UN and humanitarian actors to provide vital supplies and other assistance to the affected civilians, as well as access for medical evacuations.

And we just received an operational update from UNMISS.  The Mission reports that the ceasefire seems to be largely holding, barring sporadic gunfire. It also reports that the airport in the capital has been reopened, although commercial flights remain suspended. Peacekeepers were able to conduct a limited number of short patrols in Juba today. Since the fighting began on Friday, some 5,000 additional displaced people have sought protection in the UN's Tomping compound in the capital. Another 3,000 IDPs [internally displaced persons] who arrived at the UN House premise have been relocated to the protection of civilians’ site nearby.

Our humanitarian colleagues also report that preliminary estimates indicate that some 36,000 people have been displaced by the fighting. Most of the affected people are women and children.  The humanitarian situation is grave and the needs are immense, made worse by heavy rains.  Humanitarian partners are assisting wounded civilians within the UN sites and providing health services at the clinic in a compound.  However, the prevailing security situation has severely limited their ability to reach the populations in need.

From Geneva, our colleagues at UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] also today called on all armed parties to ensure safe passage for people fleeing the fighting and urged neighbouring countries to keep borders open to people seeking asylum.  In a statement issued yesterday, the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, expressed deep concern at the threat the renewed fighting poses to the populations of South Sudan. He reminded the Government of its responsibility to protect its populations, irrespective of their ethnicity or political affiliation.  He also stressed the urgent need to end impunity in South Sudan and to bring to justice all those responsible for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

**Middle East

As you will have seen earlier today, the Secretary‑General spoke to the Security Council open meeting on the Middle East. He spoke about the Middle East Quartet’s report, saying that some on both sides have criticized the report’s content and sought to dismiss its conclusions and recommendations.  But, he said that the report’s overriding message is irrefutable:  as negative trends grow more frequent, the prospects of a two‑State solution grow more distant.  He urged both sides to immediately begin discussions with the Quartet on implementing these recommendations to restore hope in a political future.  His full statement is available online.

**Human Rights

Speaking this morning at the General Assembly debate on human rights, the Secretary‑General said that international human rights and humanitarian law are being eroded and called on Governments to meet their responsibilities.  He said that all Member States have a shared best interest in promoting individual and collective human rights, noting that repressive policies against violent extremism and terrorism make nobody safe.  He also stressed that human rights are the most powerful driver of peace and development.  The Secretary‑General also referred to the UN Human Rights up Front, saying it is changing how the UN thinks and acts, shifting our focus on prevention rather than reaction.


Our humanitarian colleagues from Nigeria today stress that urgent funding is required for North‑Eastern Nigeria.  The Famine Early Warning Systems Network released a food security alert indicating that a famine could be imminent in the worst affected areas, following similar assessments by the UN.  $221.6 million are needed to respond to immediate humanitarian needs in the Lake Chad Basin between now and the end of September.


Also from our humanitarian colleagues, the 2016 Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan was launched today, requesting $952 million to support 4.6 million people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.  These include an estimated 2.2 million internally displaced people, as well as 700,000 refugees, as well as vulnerable populations due to the impacts of El Niño.

**Côte d’Ivoire

I also want to flag a report released jointly by the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) and the High Commissioner for Human Rights on rape and sexual violence in the country.  The report highlights the progress made in the judicial response to these crimes and the fight against impunity, but stresses that such progress remains clearly insufficient.

Although investigations were opened in 90 per cent of rape cases documented in the report, less than 20 percent of them resulted in a conviction.  The report also stresses that all 203 cases that ended in a conviction were “reclassified”, a common practice of judging rape as a lesser offence and for which the sentencing is less severe.  This practice is seen as a way for victims to access justice and facilitate a prompt judgement, but, according to the report, it minimizes the gravity of rape.  The full report is available online.


Today, our colleagues at UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS] warn that after significant reductions, declines in new HIV infections among adults have stalled and are even rising in some parts of the world.  While significant progress is being made in stopping new HIV infections among children, the issued today shows that new HIV infections among adults are rising in some regions, especially in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

After years of steady decline, the Caribbean and the Middle East and North Africa have also been experiencing a rise in annual new HIV infections among adults — that is between 2010 and 2015.  As you know, the 2016 International AIDS Conference will take place next week in Durban and UNAIDS will be calling there on implementers, innovators, communities, scientists, donors and others to close the prevention gap.  Khalas.  Mr. Klein?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes.  The Israeli ambassador told reporters today that when the Secretary‑General was meeting with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu that the Prime Minister had urged him to take a message when he then met with President [Mahmoud] Abbas, for Abbas to resume direct negotiations with Israel at the highest levels.  Did the Secretary‑General take that message to the Prime Minister [sic], and if so, what was the response?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General has been taking that message both privately and publically, and has called repeatedly on the parties to engage in direct negotiations.

Question:  But, they… but to date, as you know, the… um… President Abbas has refused to engage in direct negotiations.  He's relying instead on proposals for international conferences, et cetera.  So, to what extent is the Secretary‑General emphasizing the urgency of resuming direct negotiations?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General has emphasized that urgency, both publicly today, through the Quartet report and in his meetings with interlocutors.  I can't speak for the other parties involved.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you.  I asked today Ambassador [Riyad] Mansour if they had an advanced copy of the Quartet report; which I asked you yesterday, and you said the parties had an advanced copy.  He said the following:  That we were told orally about the part that concerned the settlement and the destruction of homes and the areas here, et cetera.  That part which concerned the Palestinians.  However, when the report came out, to their surprise, as he said, it was… had drastically changed.  That's one thing.  The second, I asked the Israeli ambassador also… does he recognize East Jerusalem, West Bank, as occupied territories, and he went on to talk about that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the State of Israel forever and ever.  What do you think of both positions of the Israeli and Palestinian ambassadors?

Spokesman:  You know, on your first part, I'll repeat what I said, which is that both parties were given a chance to contribute any input to the report.  As for the Secretary‑General's stance on Jerusalem, on the occupied territories, I think his stance remains the same and has called for negotiated… direct negotiations for the two to ensure a viable two‑State solution, which I think the Secretary‑General, his remarks flag that what we're seeing on the ground doesn't really encourage that sort of solution.  Pamela?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  As you know, the court… the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled against China in the China‑Philippines dispute on the Law of the Sea.  Do you think it has implications for other parties to similar disputes in the South China Seas?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, we're obviously aware of the decision rendered by the Tribunal, which was established under Annex VII of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.  The Secretary‑General has consistently called on all parties to resolve their disputes in the South China Sea in a peaceful and amicable manner through dialogue and in conformity with international law, including the UN Charter.  It remains important to avoid actions that would provoke or exacerbate those tensions.  Yes?

Question:  Following up on the South China Sea.  Are every concerned countries advised to abide by the decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague?

Spokesman:  You know, the UN doesn't have a position on the legal and procedural merits of the case or on the disputed claims.  And, you know, as for the details concerning the settlements of disputes mechanism under the Convention of the Law of the Sea that are set forth in paragraph… in Part XV and relevant annexes to that treaty; thus, the Secretary‑General does not have anything to add in this regard.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Some other things, but just on that, I don't know if you've seen a Philippine group has… is proposed that somehow the UN get involved in this with a “maritime peace zone” and the UN stepping in to administer disputed shoals and artificial islands.  Is that something that, to your knowledge, the UN…?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, as I said, the Secretary‑General has consistently called on all parties to resolve their dispute in a peaceful and amicable way through dialogue.  I think while the dialogue continues, it's important for States to exercise restraint on the conduct and contentious activities in the South China Sea.  He has consistently expressed his hope that the continued consultations on a Code of Conduct between ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] and China under the framework of the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea will lead to increased mutual understanding among all the parties.

Question:  Thanks.  I… I… I listened to the Secretary‑General's speech on… in the human rights event, and he mentioned [Human] Rights Up Front, which at least, I think, somehow is connected to what happened in Sri Lanka, or at least I've heard it described that way.  So, I wanted to know, the President of Sri Lanka, Mr. [Maithrepala] Sirisena, has recently said there will be no international judges in the working of accountability procedures which seems to be a stepping back from what he had said and was praised for saying.  Does the Secretary‑General have any view on this stepping back?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen those exact comments.  There are issues between the international community and Sri Lanka and agreements to ensure accountability.  And we hope those are followed.

Question:  And also another one…?

Spokesman:  I'll come back to you.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Still on the Middle East.  This past weekend, the foreign minister of Egypt met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and they discussed the possibility of resuming the peace talk.  They are considering the possibility of forming a four‑member group, including Palestinians, Israelis, Egyptians and Jordanians, to see if they can resume the talks.  How does this square with the French efforts to launch an international conference?

Spokesman:  We're aware there are a number of international initiatives out there.  The Secretary‑General has expressed support for the French initiative.  I think what is important is that these initiatives should not be seen as competing.  They should be seen as mutually reinforcing, leading to… and the Secretary‑General's message continues to be that there should be direct talks between the parties.  There are a lot of issues to be settled, I think, as outlined by the Secretary‑General in the… in his report to the Quartet.  We've encouraged the parties to also engage with the Quartet, which hopefully will then lead to direct negotiations.  But, I think it's important to see that all of these efforts can be mutually beneficial.  Yep?

Question:  On the Western Sahara, there are some reports talking about the return of some of the MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara) staff.  Can you tell us if this is true and what's the situation of the talks?

Spokesman:  You know, the discussions are progressing between Morocco and the United Nations.  We, obviously… you know, it's important for us to ensure that the Security Council resolution is fulfilled, and we will be reporting back to the Council in due time.  Mr. Klein.  Mr. Lee.

Question:  Again, going back to the Middle East, the Israeli ambassador, both during his remarks to the Security Council and then to reporters afterwards, displayed a map showing the location in civilian areas next to schools, next to mosques of Hizbullah rockets.  And he also said that in the last 10 years since resolution 1701 (2006) was passed, the number of rockets and missiles that Hizbullah has placed in southern Lebanon has risen from 7,000 to over 100,000.  There was no reference to any of this in the Secretary‑General's report, so I'm wondering whether the Secretary‑General will now have any comment on… on…?

Spokesman:  I saw like you did Ambassador [Danny] Danon’s briefing as I was preparing for my own briefing.  I think it's important that any information be shared with the UN. I think UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] has done a tremendous job in fulfilling its mandate and in setting clearly the responsibilities of all the parties involved to ensure peace and calm along the Blue Line, to ensure the return of state authority of Lebanon fully to its southern border.  And I think the report, especially the last report, was fairly clear on the activities of the parties with the information available to the UN at the time of the report.

Question:  So, you're saying that this latest information has not, to your knowledge, been submitted yet to…?

Spokesman:  I don't… you know, this is a very public display of information.  I don't compile the reports.  I hope that the information is shared.  I can't tell you if the information is new or not new, but I hope whatever information is had is shared.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  More human rights questions.  One is:  US congresswoman Maxine Waters has announced that she sent a letter on the date of 6 July to the Secretary‑General urging him to pay compensation to the victims of Cholera and saying that he should reconsider the Legal Counsel's advice in light of the special rapporteurs.  Have you received it?

Spokesman:  Yes, we have.

Question:  Will you be responding to it?

Spokesman:  We will be responding.  I assume that response will be shared with Congresswoman Waters, whom the Secretary‑General very much appreciates.  He saw her when he was last in California.  And then we'll see what we can share with you.  But, again, I think I'd refer you back to what the Secretary‑General said in terms of his feeling towards Haiti when he was in Haiti last and he met with victims of Cholera, and of course our ongoing efforts to get funding for water and sanitation programmes in Haiti.

Correspondent:  Right.  But, she's talking about compensation.

Spokesman:  I understand.

Question:  Okay.  I wanted to ask you this.  Been meaning for a couple of days.  It's about UNCTAD [United Nations Conference on Trade and Development], but it really is about the Secretary‑General and Omar al‑Bashir.  I'm told and maybe you can confirm or deny that the leadership of UNCTAD, there was a dispute about whether the deputy, Mr. Reiter, should go to represent UNCTAD in Sudan and meet Omar al‑Bashir.  Told that the USG [Under-Secretary-General], Mr. [Mukhisa] Kituyi, claims to have said that he spoke to Ban Ki‑moon who said that it would be fine for an ASG [Assistant Secretary-General] to meet with Bashir.  Is that true, and, if so, how is that an essential contact… conduct… contact of the type that the ICC [International Criminal Court]…?

Spokesman:  I don't know.  I'm not aware of a meeting or a phone call that may or may not have happened.  I think the rules that are to be followed of contacts between UN officials and people who have been indicted by the ICC are clear, and those rules have not changed.

Question:  And you can't… I mean, UNCTAD meeting with Bashir would not comply with…?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to speculate to meetings that I'm not aware of.  Go ahead.

Question:  On Burundi, I wanted to ask you:  There are a lot of complaints that the talks are reviving but there are many groups saying that they weren't invited, that most… most… that it's not inclusive enough.  I wanted to know whether Mr. [Jamal] Benomar or the Secretary‑General has any view.  And also there are people complaining again about deployment of known… of alleged human rights abusers, this time to AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia].  And I know I've asked you before, what's the role of DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations]…?

Spokesman:  AMISOM is an African Union-led mission, so I think you should ask them.  On the talks, Mr. Benomar and his team will be present at the next round of talks, and we very much hope that they will be as inclusive as possible.Correspondent:  There's now a trial date in the Ng Lap Seng case, and I wanted to know there's also a date for a… for a… what's called a cursio review that will involve… I’d asked Farhan [Haq] this about South‑South News, they're specifically named as part of the review of whether the lawyer…

Spokesman:  Nothing new on South‑South News.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Tension in the South China Sea is not only continuing, but was always predictable.  Even [Kurt] Waldheim said at the Conference on the Law of the Sea, Caracas, in 1974:  “We must not transfer our quarrels on land to the sea.  It is predictable as nations begin to implement the provisions of the… Law of the Sea conference provisions, expansion of territories in exclusive economic zones.”  What is the Secretary‑General doing in terms of preventative diplomacy?  Is he asking for more provisions in lieu of the two…?

Spokesman:  I think this is an issue that has come up in the Secretary‑General's discussions with various leaders in the region, whether it's in China or in Vietnam, not long ago in any other countries implicated in this issue.  He has stressed over and over again the need for the parties to resolve their disputes in a peaceful and amicable way.  And that has consistently been his message.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  All right.  I'm asking it now just because tomorrow will be too late.  Does he have concerns that the debate this evening in the General Assembly Hall.  I wanted to know, I made a request, I guess, to the spokesman for the PGA [President of the General Assembly], but is… is… who… to whom does one direct a request that there be a UNTV camera and a stakeout established outside?  And in connection with that, what is the relationship between the UN DPI [Department of Public Information], UNTV and the event?  I was told by somebody in that chain that the… the… the footage, the UN somehow either doesn't really own or can't distribute.

Spokesman:  No.  The UN… the meeting… my understanding from the UNTV side is that the video and the footage shot by UNTV of the debates will be available to all broadcasters who so want it.

Question:  But, what… and there's fully an agreement for this thing.  And I'm wondering, was that the type of agreement that can be made public to understand more clearly?

Spokesman:  I don't… that's a question you need to ask DPI.  But, the point is that there is not an… any broadcaster who wishes to access the video shot by UNTV in the General Assembly Hall during this debate will have access to it through United Nations Television.

Question:  And what about a stakeout outside?

Spokesman: I think that's something you need to ask the PGA's office.  That's beyond my very limited remit.  Enjoy the rest of your day.

For information media. Not an official record.