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

15 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone.


Earlier this morning, we issued the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the attack in Nice.  The Secretary-General condemns the 14 July terrorist attack in Nice, France.  He expresses his deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims of this horrific act, as well as to the Government and the people of France.  He wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.

The Secretary-General hopes that all those responsible for this massacre will be rapidly identified and brought to justice.  He stands firmly by the French Government and people as they confront this threat and stresses the need to intensify regional and international efforts to combat terrorism and violent extremism.  And you will have also seen the statement issued by the President of the Security Council concerning this attack.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General has arrived in Kigali, where he is to attend the African Union Summit and raise the need to resolve the crisis in South Sudan with the leaders gathered there.  He should be meeting right now with a delegation from South Sudan, including Nhial Deng, the Special Envoy of President [Salva] Kiir, and Foreign Minister Deng Alor.  We’ll provide details of his meetings as they happen.  On Sunday, he will depart from Rwanda for Kenya, where he will open the fourteenth session of the UN Conference on Trade and Development.

**South Sudan

Also, on South Sudan, the UN Mission in the country, UNMISS, reports that the situation in Juba remains calm but tense.  Earlier today, the Mission carried out a search operation for weapons at the UN Tomping base, where 2,300 internally displaced people are currently being protected, and recovered several items, including ammunition and military uniforms.  Outside of Juba, UNMISS received reports of some clashes in Leer this morning.  The Mission also began the temporary relocation of non-critical personnel in Juba to Entebbe today.

Meanwhile, UN peacekeeping wishes to thank the Government of Germany for its support in the medical evacuation of four wounded peacekeepers on Wednesday to Entebbe.  Our humanitarian colleagues also report that, four days into the tenuous ceasefire in Juba, many people have begun to return to their homes.  Humanitarians have now visited all of the reported collective displacement sites and estimate that around 8,000 people remain displaced, including around 4,300 in the UNMISS sites and some 3,700 outside.

Humanitarian organizations continue to respond to locations with the highest needs.  While responding to the acute needs in Juba as a result of the recent violence, the humanitarian community remains extremely concerned about the immense humanitarian needs across the country, where more than 4.8 million people were already severely food insecure before the recent violence.  And the [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], UNHCR, today said that the population of South Sudanese refugees in the region could pass the 1 million mark this year if cross-border displacement trends continue.

Expressing concerns about the likelihood of fresh outflows of refugees in the wake of the fighting in Juba, UNHCR launched today a revised appeal of $701 million.  UNHCR noted that its initial appeal for this year was only 17 per cent funded, which has forced them to prioritize emergency response and life-saving activities, at the expense of critical water, sanitation, hygiene, health and shelter interventions for refugees.  Although children constitute 70 per cent of the refugee population, child protection activities are also severely compromised, they said.


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Jan Kubiš, briefed the Security Council today, urging more support for Iraqis at this critical juncture.  He said that the pledging conference for Iraq in Washington, D.C., on 20 July is a sign of the international community's continued commitment for a stable and peaceful Iraq, and its recognition of the sacrifices Iraq and its people bear in fighting Da’esh.

The Special Representatives noted that the recent strategic victories against Da’esh in Fallujah and Qayyarah, and progress in cutting off their supplies in Hawija have once again proved that Iraqis are capable of defeating the group.  He welcomed Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s efforts to prioritize UN-supported humanitarian operations, as preparations continue to liberate Mosul.  Mr. Kubiš said that while the international community is ready to offer assistance, Iraqis must implement substantive economic, institutional and anti-corruption reforms that will put their country on the road to recovery and improve the lives of Iraqis.  His remarks are available in our office.


The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, rang the alarm today about the increasingly desperate situation of at least 200,000 civilians trapped in three towns in Syria where attacking forces have been making significant headway in recent weeks.  High Commissioner Zeid said he believes that there are at least 150,000 civilians who are now effectively totally trapped in the opposition-held part of Aleppo.  He worried about what will happen to them as the fighting closes in and intensifies, while their already minimal supplies of food, water and medicine run out.

Meanwhile, as Government forces and their supporters have advanced on the opposition-held eastern parts of the city, armed opposition groups have escalated their shelling of Government-held areas of Aleppo, further endangering the remaining civilian population there.  The High Commissioner also expressed alarm about the desperate situation of the thousands of civilians who have been trapped in the strategically located town of Darayya, in Western Ghouta, an area close to Damascus that has been under siege by Government forces and their allies since 2012.  And he expressed concern about deteriorating conditions in Manbij, where approximately 70,000 civilians are believed to be trapped between the warring parties.


On Yemen, talks are expected to resume with both delegations tomorrow in Kuwait.  The delegation of Ansarallah and the General People's Congress arrived in Kuwait today. The Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, is currently in Riyadh and is meeting with President [Abd Rabbuh Mansur] Hadi and the delegation of the Government of Yemen. 

Meanwhile, the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, has expressed concern regarding the lack of foreign currency reserves in the Yemen Central Bank.  Without such reserves, Yemen's commercial sector is unable to receive lines of credit, curbing Yemen's capability to import key staples such as rice and wheat.  Yemeni families are already paying as much as 30 per cent over pre-crisis wheat prices in some areas of the country.  Seven million people are severely food insecure.  The United Nations has provided food assistance to an average of four million people a month between January and May this year.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

And speaking of the High Commissioner for Human Rights — Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein will begin a four-day official visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Monday, at the invitation of the Government. During his visit, he has requested a meeting with the President Joseph Kabila and will hold discussions with top officials.  He will also travel to Bukavu to visit the Panzi Hospital.

**Southern Africa

The Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Kyung-wha Kang, is scheduled to visit Malawi and Madagascar from 16 to 22 July to see for herself the impact of El Niño in Southern Africa.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that Southern Africa is experiencing the worst El-Niño-induced drought in 35 years, following the failure of two consecutive rainy seasons.  Nearly 40 million people in the region are food insecure.  During her visit, Ms. Kang is expected to meet representatives of affected communities, government officials and humanitarian representatives in Malawi and Madagascar to discuss the effects of the drought and the efforts currently under way to address people’s needs.


Our colleagues at the World Food Programme (WFP) say that they have been working with the Government of Nigeria and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to scale up assistance in the north-east of the country to reach some 724,000 people in desperate need.  The agency has more than doubled the number of people it has been able to reach in the last six months.  It remains very concerned about the rising number of people facing hunger. It warns that unless life-saving assistance is provided fast, hunger will only deepen during the current lean and rainy season.  WFP needs $65 million to continue providing assistance until the end of the year in north-eastern Nigeria.


From Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, has expressed concern over further restrictions by Hungary leading to push-backs of people seeking asylum, as well as reports of the use of violence and abuse against them.  The agency says that these restrictions were not in line with international law, and has called for reports of abuse to be investigated.  The number of refugees and migrants at the Serbia-Hungary border had reached over 1,400.  The majority are women and children who have been particularly affected by the deteriorating humanitarian situation.  More information is available on UNHCR’s website.

**World Youth Skills Day

And today is World Youth Skills Day.  In a message issued on this occasion, the Secretary-General said that while young people hold the key to society’s future advancement, too often they face barriers to their personal progress.  More than 73 million are unemployed, making youth three times more likely than adults to be out of work.

The Secretary-General said that empowering young people through skills development strengthens their capacity to help address the many challenges facing society, including poverty, injustice and violent conflict.  There is no better investment than helping a young person to develop her abilities, he said.  In connection to this, new data from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) warns that an estimated 263 million children and youth are out of school — a number equivalent to about a quarter of the population of Europe.

**Honour Roll

And for the honour roll, we have good news to report, at the end of a quiet week for the UN coffers — Maldives has paid its regular budget dues in full for 2016.  This brings the total number of fully paid up States to 95. Thank you, Malé.

**Press Conference Monday

And for press conferences — on Monday, at 10:15 a.m., there will be a press conference by the Secretary-General's Special Envoys on El Niño and Climate, Mary Robinson of Ireland and Macharia Kamau of Kenya.  They will brief you on El Niño-affected countries and the high-level event on responding to the impacts El Niño and mitigating recurring climate risks, which will be held on Tuesday, 19 July.  That's it for me.  Are there any questions?  Yes, Erol.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan, just two quick questions.  Number one, in according to the news report in Moscow, during the meeting with President [Vladimir] Putin and Secretary of the United States, State Secretary [John} Kerry, Kerry said he is concerned that the conflict in Syria could become of eternal character; what does the Secretary‑General have to say about that?  Is he also concerned that it could become a conflict of that kind of sort?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly, the Secretary‑General and his Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, are doing what they can to try to see how we can put a halt to this crisis.  As you know, Mr. de Mistura is still working with the various parties, trying to see when we can begin the next round of intra-Syrian talks and he hopes to be able to announce that, as we informed you during his last visit here a few weeks back.  We don't have a date yet for that.  And of course, the danger is with so many people besieged, with so much fighting going on, that this is something so difficult to resolve that it could take a lengthy amount of time.  But, right now, if we get the support that's required by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) and its co-chairs, whose senior officials, as you just pointed out, have been meeting in recent days in Moscow, we could make some real headway.  Yes?

Correspondent:  I wanted to ask about Western Sahara.  Yesterday, Stéphane [Dujarric] had said that the first group of 25 MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara] personnel landed in Laayoune yesterday…

Deputy Spokesman:  That’s not…

Correspondent:  That is what he said.

Deputy Spokesman:  It may have been a little bit garbled as he was trying to express it, but the first batch of 25 people is arriving over the coming days.  But, that batch will be there within the coming days, but they haven't all arrived in one go.

Question:  I'm told only seven were there when he said it?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  I believe there has been about four or five each day but as of now, right now, the number is at 12.

Question:  Given the unclarity, I'm asking you to confirm as follows that on Wednesday, 13 July, four arrived, that on Thursda, 14 July, three arrived, that five were supposed to arrive today and 13 are still awaiting travel confirmation.  Because people that know about this saw what he said and contacted Inner City Press and said it's false, it's false information?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, he had guidance, but I think as it came out of his mouth, it was garbled a little bit, but he was saying that the first batch of 25 is arriving.  But it didn't arrive…

Question:  But, why didn't he then send an e‑mail around because people reported it?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, when reporters approached us, we tried to give them the correct figures.

Correspondent:  I'm interested in this and I didn't approach him because he ran out of the room.


Deputy Spokesman:  In the first… that's between you and him.

Question:  Why don't you send an e‑mail to the press when you say something false from the podium?  That’s my question.

Deputy Spokesman:  It wasn't false.  They are arriving in the coming days, but in terms out of how much arrived the first day, yes, it is four; and as of now the number is 12; and we will get further groups arriving in basically threes and fours in the coming days, up until the first tranche is completed and that will be a tranche of 25, which is what he said.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, going back to Syria, 15 July, and Mr. de Mistura the last time he spoke to us still held out the hope that there will be some meaningful accomplishments in August, moving towards at least the initiation of Syria's talks in devising a transition Government.  At what point, given the lateness of the point in time we are now in, July, is the UN going to admit that this timetable projecting August as originally in the Security Council resolution, as when the transitional Government will be established, when is the UN going to admit that that is totally unrealistic and say that the timetable now is indefinite, I mean?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, that is a loaded way to phrase the question but basically…

Correspondent:  My question is a little loaded, I know.

Deputy Spokesman:  The basic point is that, in diplomacy, you never ever plan for failure.  You never anticipate that something will go poorly.  What you do is try to take advantage of timing and opportunity as it arises.  Staffan de Mistura is trying to do that and he will continue to do so in terms of trying to get this timetable achieved.  Can it be achieved?  With the right amount of will, the number of days we have is not too many; but what's lacking, has been lacking is the will among various parties.  The sort of signs that we've had in recent days are a sign that some of the key countries are aware of the need to come together.  If that can happen, let's see where we can go with that.

Question:  Can I follow up?

Deputy Spokesman:  Sure, and then you after him.

Question:  So, as Mr. Klein said to you, it's about that meeting, is Mr. Staffan de Mistura and the United Nations are finally admitting that they are going to have to wait for the major players, I would say, now we see from the United States and the Russian Federation, to make headway and then follow‑up?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's not so much that we are waiting for them.  It's that they have a significant part to play.  Mr. de Mistura, when he spoke to the press, talked in particular about the contributions that could be made by the International Syria Support Group and its co-chairs.  And what we are seeing in recent days is the recognition by those countries of the need to move forward.  Yes?

Question:  You may consider this loaded, as well, but diplomacy also has to be based in some respects on the reality of the situation on the ground and not living in a state of illusion, and wouldn't it help if for once there was a candid admission that the timetable that everyone touted last December right in this room, including Secretary of State Kerry and Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov, is not going… is totally unrealistic at this point?  I mean, it's the middle of July and we can't even get the parties to the table and the timetable had called for the Transitional Government to be established by August.  So, why can't there be admission of the elephant in the room, and you know, acknowledge that this process has failed to date?  Realism has to be part of diplomacy.

Deputy Spokesman:  Realism is a part of diplomacy.  And whenever timetables fail to be met, parties sometimes have to adjust.  You have seen many, many times at the UN when you're having negotiations on a treaty or on a resolution when you stop the clock and allow for the final bits of negotiating to take place.  What we're saying is with the right amount of will, we can meet the commitments that all the parties had agreed to in previous months.  But, what you need is the right amount of will, what you need is actions among the key countries.  If and when there is a need to revise the timetable, we can take that up at that point; but right now, it's important also to get people concentrating on what they have previously agreed to so that they don't just let the timetable lapse.  Because you also then have to consider if you let this deadline go by, who is to say when you will return to this?  Yes?

Question:  In Aleppo, there are reports of more bombings as you mentioned, of civilian areas.  Who did it?  Syria, Russia?  There are only two countries with planes for bombing.  And also Jan Egeland suggested that this might be the nineteenth besieged area.  Has anyone moved on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, yes.  Certainly, we would draw your attention to Mr. Egeland's comments from the press encounter that he and Mr. Staffan de Mistura did yesterday.  Regarding Aleppo, you're aware of what the situation is.  We have no firsthand capability to know who is behind this; but, of course, we are against this constant besiegement and these attacks, and you will have seen the press release from the High Commissioner of Human Rights that I just mentioned right now, which also has some more information on that.  Yes, Oleg?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  And I understand you are trying to be positive; but, once again, do you think it's realistic to reach all these goals before 1 August?  I understand what you're saying about the political will, but even with the political will, whether there will be one or not, do you think it's possible to do that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Anything is possible.  At the start of this year, if you had said you can't possibly reach all of the besieged areas, it seemed like a daunting task, given the number of people besieged and the number of locations.  But, over the months, we have been able to hit all of them.  It takes time.  It takes effort.  Part of the reason that I'm not inclined to say we would give up on this or that is that the last year has actually shown that, as difficult as it is, you can have moments where you can really have a reduction, a significant reduction in violence.  You can have food and water and medicine get to people in need and these things make a lot of difference.  There are hundreds of thousands of people whose lives are depending on this, and let's see what we can do for them.

Correspondent:  Yeah, but you spent half a year trying to reach people in the 18 besieged areas and you did this only recently — took half a year, and we are talking about the political process, we are talking about parties at least to start it, to form some sort of Government or governing body, they need at least to get to the table and they are not.  They are not there.

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not denying the complexity of the task; all of you are mentioning it.  And it's clear and it has been clear for the past five years how difficult it is.  But, in the past year, there have been real opportunities.  We have seized them as they come up and sometimes we've made some real progress that makes a real difference.  So, let's see what can be achieved, because there are many, many things that can be achieved quickly if we can get the parties together.  Yes?

Question:  You said noncritical staff has been moved to Entebbe from Juba.  How many staff are considered noncritical and have they all been moved or will there will be more moved?

Deputy Spokesman:  I can't say whether more will come in the coming days.  We've been trying to see whether we can officially confirm a number, but I don't have one I can officially give you.  Yes.  Yes, Carole?

Question:  On the Yemen talks, Farhan, they have been delayed for a day.   What can you tell us why this delay and how confident are you that it's going to happen tomorrow?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I could tell you it's going to tomorrow because that is what we have just announced.  But, beyond that, like I said, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is currently in Riyadh where he has been talking with President Hadi and the Government delegation.  The other delegation, the one comprising Ansarallah and representatives of the General People's Congress have already arrived in Kuwait, and we will see whether we can get both delegations, so that we can get the talks started.  If there is any further delays, we can let you know at this time, but right now what we are anticipating is a start tomorrow.  Yes, Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  And also dealing with the issue of Syria, how confident is the UN that even if a political transition were put together with the opposition, Assad Government, I mean, how strong do you think they will be in order to confront ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Da’esh] and Al-Nusrah, who are certainly not part of the talks?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, that's a question that remains a little bit in the future, depending upon what kind of Government can be formed.  But, ultimately what we have been drawing attention to is the need for the parties to see a real horizon for a political transition, and so we need to see what we can get going that can be broadly acceptable to the people of Syria.  And of course, what you're pointing out is that they also need to engage wholeheartedly in the fight against Da'esh.  And for that, we believe there is further need for unity among all Syrians as they face a common threat.  Yes?

Question:  Sure. I want to ask about some other talks, talks in Arusha on Burundi have broken up again.  Many people including many of the opposition are saying they are pretty ineffective and not inclusive, so I wanted to know what is the UN's readout of these talks and what the next steps are?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I mean, at this stage we are evaluating; but we need to make sure that you can make some headway.  We have been very supportive of the effort to have the Arusha talks.  Ultimately, it's important that you have inclusive talks and an inclusive process.  Jamal Benomar has been paying attention to this process and we'll have to see from him what his evaluation is on next steps after this.

Question:  Can I ask, there is something in the Journal today, the Secretary‑General's bulletin, placement of staff members serving in the Executive Office of the Secretary‑General, and it seems to say that they can now be moved laterally to any vacant position in any organizational unit or duty station without advertisement and without any further review by the Central Review Body.  So, there are people looking at this that say… I guess I wanted to ask you simply this:  Is there any precedent for this?  It seems… some people see it as an attempt to place people that might not be kept on by the next SG [Secretary-General] out into any position they want and it overrides all competitive processes, so what is the rationale for it and is there any precedents for it?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, it's not clear whether that is a policy or anything.  This is something listed in the Journal…

Correspondent:  It's a bulletin so it's not…

Deputy Spokesman:  And the bulletin that lists events, so we would need to get the facts.

Question:  Secretary bulletin?

Deputy Spokesman:  We would need to get the facts of what this policy entails, so I would need to check on that.

Question:  Okay, and can you do that by e‑mail?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, if I get it in time for an e‑mail; otherwise, we can do it at a briefing.  All right, have a great weekend, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.