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

27 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.


We have the following readout of the Secretary-General's phone call with Mevlut Cavusoglu, Foreign Minister of Turkey:  Today, the Secretary-General spoke to Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Turkey, expressing his solidarity and sympathies to the Government of Turkey and the families of the victims of the 15 July coup attempt and seeking an update on current investigations and measures to hold those responsible to account.

While recognizing the extraordinary circumstances prevailing in the country following the coup attempt, the Secretary-General expressed his expectation that Turkey adhere to its international human rights obligations, upholding fundamental rights and universal principles, including the freedom of expression, freedom of movement and peaceful assembly, independence of the judiciary and of the legal profession, right to fair trial and strict adherence to due process.  The Secretary-General also expressed his concern over the extent of the recent governmental decree regarding the implementation of the state of emergency, which enlists a number of measures restricting the full exercise of individual rights.

While welcoming the announced release of 1,200 military detainees, the Secretary-General referred to worrying reports of mistreatment and abuse of some of those who are still in custody and their detention conditions, and underscored his deep concern about the scope of continuing wide-spread arrests, detentions and suspensions, which reportedly cover many segments of Turkish society and Government institutions.  Credible evidence on those under investigation has to be presented swiftly to the judicial system so that legal determination could be made before the court of law.  Heartened by the Government and opposition rallying around upholding the Republic, the Secretary-General trusts that the Government and people of Turkey will transform this moment of uncertainty into a moment of unity, preserving Turkey's democracy.  That readout will be online shortly.

**Security Council

The heads of the UN’s political and humanitarian sections briefed the Security Council today on the situation in the Lake Chad Basin and the disruption caused by Boko Haram’s violent attacks in the region.  Jeffrey Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said that Boko Haram attacks were continuing mainly in north-eastern Nigeria and southern Niger, and to a lesser extent in northern Cameroon and the Lac region of Chad.  The terrorist group persists in targeting innocent civilians, including through suicide attacks, often using young children.

Mr. Feltman noted allegations of human rights abuses in the affected countries, especially against youth belonging to Muslim communities. He said that to prevent the human rights situation from deteriorating further, concerned States must ensure accountability for serious violations by national forces and that the use of force is in full compliance with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law.  He added that the United Nations supports national and regional efforts to prevent and combat terrorism and to ensure that the perpetrators of terrorism are brought to justice.  However, counter-terrorist operations must abide by the rule of law and international human rights norms.

Stephen O’ Brien, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, informed the Security Council that across the Lake Chad Basin, the UN estimates that more than 9 million people need humanitarian assistance.  About 2.8 million of these people have been displaced, fleeing violent attacks in their towns and villages.  Mr. O’Brien said that children are particularly vulnerable, especially the 1.7 million children who have been displaced across the Lake Chad Basin.  Children risk being abducted and forcibly recruited by Boko Haram to take part in the violence including acting as suicide bombers.  He added that last month, the Nigerian authorities rightly declared a nutrition emergency for Borno State.  Direct reports from the field indicate that affected communities are rapidly running out of food.  Mr. O’Brien warned that, if we do not act now, the human suffering will only get more extreme.

**South Sudan

Regarding South Sudan, the UN Mission in the country (UNMISS) continues to document deeply disturbing reports of sexual violence, including rape and gang rape, by soldiers in uniform and men in plain clothes against civilians, including minors, around UN House and in other areas of Juba.  Since the start of the current violence in Juba, the Mission has documented at least [120] cases of sexual violence and rape against civilians.  It has stepped up its patrols in and around the Protection of Civilians sites, as well as in Juba city.

In addition, mitigating measures are in place where UNMISS forces provide protection at designated times to women when they go out of the Protection of Civilians sites to collect firewood and procure other non-food items.  We have called on all parties to the conflict to take personal responsibility for the immediate sanctioning of their soldiers involved in these unspeakable acts of violence.


The Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, concluded a two-day visit to Nouakchott yesterday, where he participated in the League of Arab States Summit.  The Special Envoy represented the Secretary-General during the Summit and delivered his message in the opening ceremony.  He also held a series of side meetings with Arab political figures in order to update them on the latest developments regarding the peace process and the escalations of hostilities in the country, especially in Al-Sarari and Taizz.  The Special Envoy will resume his participation in the Yemeni peace talks in Kuwait tomorrow.  They had been moderated by his advisers during his short absence.

Meanwhile, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, issued a statement expressing extreme concern at reports of rising tensions in Taizz Governorate and in particular the reinforcement of the closure on Taizz city and the escalation of hostilities in the area of Al-Sarari.  He reminded all parties to the conflict of their obligation under international humanitarian law to allow sustained and unconditional humanitarian access to all people in need of assistance.  He called on all parties to agree immediately to a humanitarian pause in order to protect civilians and to work with the UN and humanitarian partners to facilitate the treatment and evacuation of the war wounded, as well as the delivery of urgently needed medicine and other assistance.

**South Sudan

Sorry, I had said at least 20 cases of sexual violence.  I misread it:  It was at least 120 cases of sexual violence in South Sudan.


On Syria, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs expressed its concern over the reports of an increase in violence in Qamishly City in Syria.  Initial reports indicate that at least 40 people were killed, including children, and many more injured, after explosions detonated in a populated area this morning.  Several residential buildings have collapsed and others are significantly damaged, with unknown numbers of civilians reportedly still trapped under the debris.

The national hospital reports dozens of patients in critical condition and in urgent need of surgery.  The hospital reports shortages of essential medical supplies, including adrenaline, syringes and antibiotics.  The UN strongly condemns the use of explosive devices in populated areas.  Such attacks are an inexcusable and abhorrent violation of human rights and humanitarian law.


The UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] says that another attack occurred at Al-Salam camp for displaced families, south of Baghdad, earlier today.  UNHCR strongly condemned the attack, which is the third such incident to occur during the past three months.  Three mortar shells were fired, one falling in the centre of the camp and two others falling in a market area, injuring four children who have been taken to hospital for treatment.


The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, today expressed alarm at reports that up to 14 people face imminent execution in Indonesia, most of them for drug-related offences.  He stressed that under international law, and in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which Indonesia has ratified, in countries which have not abolished the death penalty, it may only be used for “the most serious crimes,” which has been interpreted to mean only crimes involving intentional killing.  Drug-related offences do not fall under this threshold.  Indonesia suspended a four-year de facto moratorium on the death penalty in March 2013, in a decision that runs counter to an international trend towards the abolition of the death penalty.


The Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yury Fedotov, told a security conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, today that terrorism is now more of a threat to international peace and security than ever.  He said that challenges range from the use of information technologies to spread violent extremist ideologies to the flow of foreign terrorist fighters across borders.  The rapidity of these changes could be seen in the growth of Da’esh, he said.  He said the UNODC is planning to expand its work on countering the financing of foreign fighters with a new project supporting States to specifically target Da’esh funding.

**Middle East

I was asked about recent housing demolitions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.  You will recall that earlier this week, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, condemned the advancement of plans for settlement units in Gilo and efforts to re-establish an outpost near Hebron.  The demolitions in Qalandiya and East Jerusalem on Monday night reflect Israel’s policy of denying Palestinian development in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as highlighted by the Quartet report.  The Secretary-General reiterates the Quartet’s call on Israel to cease and reverse such actions as they imperil the two-State solution.

**Press Conferences

In a short while I will be joined by Ms. Kyung-wha Kang, Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator.  She will brief you on her recent trip to Malawi and Madagascar.  And tomorrow, I will be joined at the noon briefing by the President of the Economic and Social Council, Ambassador Oh Joon.  That is it for me.  Are there any questions?  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask, I heard what you read out about the rapes in South Sudan.  I'm sure you have seen the Associated Press story, which quotes witnesses in the UN House camp as saying that peacekeepers watched and did nothing as these rapes occurred on 17 July, and I'm wondering, you know, what is being done about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, yes, we take very seriously the allegations that peacekeepers may not have rendered aid to civilians in distress.  Of course, that is exactly what they are supposed to do, and there would be serious repercussions if they failed in that duty.  But, in this case, the force command of the mission of UNMISS is looking into the allegations, in line with its established protocols.

Question:  And we will get the results, whether they confirm or deny them?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, certainly.  We will update you once there is a result to that.

Question:  And I wanted to ask you something else about South Sudan.  There is an NGO [non-governmental organization] memo that I've seen and published, which is basically protesting the shifting, the movement by the UN of IDPs [internally displaced persons] from Tomping to UN House and they say it's not prepared there, they say because of this, it could create greater Cholera risk.  And they are also, obviously, in the case if it's true that people can be raped right outside the gate of the camp with peacekeepers watching, why would you be moving them there?  So, I'm wondering, I know this memo has been delivered to UNMISS, but is UNMISS going to forcibly relocate IDPs from Tomping to UN house and if so why?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's not a question of forcibly relocating them.  What we are trying to do is make sure that, wherever the displaced people are kept, it's a place with the safest standards, so we are trying to move them to a place of greater safety.  The problem throughout the country has been one of safety and the responsibility for that ultimately lies with the warring parties who have rendered huge areas, including around Juba, in and around Juba, as unsafe.  But what we would need to do is have a place where we can have the best provision of facilities.  The Tomping site has, as you know, been full for quite some time, and what we are trying to do is move from one area to the other gradually and as a way of ensuring better safety for the displaced people.

Question:  What the NGOs are saying is that Nuer in particular are at risk in UN House; that, in fact, people are saying that, in fact, the rapes that you are describing were largely targeting Nuer woman and that putting Nuer men into UN House basically makes them a target for the majority group, so are you aware of that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you heard what I've just said about the problems regarding the rapes.  We are documenting all of the rapes, as much as we can.  And we also following up at the level of the UNMISS force command with any of the problems involving peacekeepers.  But, ultimatel,y we have to make evaluations based on where displaced people are located and where they will be safest, and as we make those evaluations, part of what we will be doing is moving them from one to another.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, thank you.  Follow‑up on South Sudan, on the movement of these IDPs to this new base, we heard that the UN might be using as escorts SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] members.  Can you confirm that, or not?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  I'm not aware that there is any such use of the SPLA in that respect.

Question:  Would the UN consider it appropriate to use SPLA as escorts in this situation?

Deputy Spokesman:  I would need to check about what the arrangements are; but, ultimately, the entire point is to have the peacekeepers themselves handle security so that the people under our protection will continue to be under our protection.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask a question about Burundi and then something about an event in this building.  In Burundi, I know that there is this idea that there is screening and due diligence, but civil society in Burundi are saying that a Lieutenant Colonel Miyuyu, who was within the military police during December 2015 during torture and killings, has arrived in Bangui and is being deployed to UN, the mission there, MINUSCA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic].  And so, I'm wondering, in particular, this is a particular individual, they say he is charged with an attack on a funeral convoy, the kidnapping of somebody called Hermes Nwindagoma and so it very… they have a lot of evidence and I'm wondering what due diligence did DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] do before bringing this individual to CAR [Central African Republic] if, in fact, he is there?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'll see what… whether there has been any concerns raised about this individual in question; if so, how have they been handled.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you for allowing a follow‑up Farhan.  Back to South Sudan, on 20 July, a group of 16 journalists, mostly foreign journalists, sent a letter to the Secretary‑General asking for more access.  After that we are told by our colleagues some access was given; however, up until now the UN has not allowed access to… for journalists to Tomping; is that correct?

Deputy Spokesman:  Tomping?  I provided an update on this just a few days ago.  The point is that we have been trying to provide access as much as we can once security improves, and there had been some journalists who had been able to do that.  I said this a few days back, so you can look back at the record of that.

Question:  Thank you.  Sorry, I missed that.  Thank you.  So the journalists there are saying that there are no security issues in their eyes.  Are you saying that's not the case?

Deputy Spokesman:  That's not what I've heard from the Mission.  The entire point is that we are trying to allow as much access as we can once there is security on the ground.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask Zimbabwe and then about this event.  I've been meaning for some days to ask, as I'm sure you have seen there is quite a bit of turmoil in Zimbabwe and most people have written open letters, and I don't know if they have written direct letters to the UN, I wanted to know, DPA [Department of Political Affairs] or any portion of the UN, have they… are they aware of this increasing… well, this flag, unrest and does the UN see any role for itself through DPA or its country team in trying to maintain peace and security and democracy in the country?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are aware of the recent reports in Zimbabwe.  We are monitoring the situation.  This is not something in which the UN has been directly involved.

Question:  Okay, and I wanted… this is the event I wanted to ask you about.  Yesterday, there was a public announcement by a for‑profit company called COPsync Inc. that is going to hold an event in the UN on 2 August called “Stand to Protect Peace Summit”.  And basically, I mean, it's a for‑profit company and it sells products and services to police departments.  And maybe they have rented out space in the UN, maybe you will find this out, but I wanted to ask you about is, they list as a participant as part of their pitch to attend it the involvement of Inspector of the UN Headquarters Matthew Sullivan, a UN DSS [Department of Safety and Security] individual.  So, I wanted to ask you either now or later today, what is the UN's involvement in this for‑profit event and how is it consistent with the commitments to do due diligence after the Ng Lap Seng South-South News scandal?

Deputy Spokesman:  I actually spoke with Mr. Sullivan earlier today.  He has confirmed to me that he had not heard of this particular speaking engagement before, was not aware of it, and is not participating.

Question:  They put it out on PR Newswire.  So, what is this involving?  Can you get an answer?  They obviously know who he is, so what is his involvement with the Jack Moore Foundation and with these individuals?

Deputy Spokesman:  He is not involved in this.  That is what he has told me.  For anything further, you need to ask them.

Question:  But, it's in the UN, it's a for‑profit event in the UN, so I'm asking in the wake of the Ng Lap Seng scandal.  What is the UN's involvement in this event taking place?

Deputy Spokesman:  First of all, you are trying to tie into similar things.  I don't speak for this company.  You would have to talk to that company about what they're doing.  Regarding how they do their arrangements, you would have to ask them.  Regarding Mr. Sullivan, no, he is not involved in this?

Question:  Are they paying the UN to use the room?  It's being held in UN Headquarters, 2 August at 3 p.m.

Deputy Spokesman:  This is not something… the UN does not charge for the use of the UN.  Yes?

Question:  Why are they in the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  You would have to ask that company.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you so much.  I got here late and you probably mentioned the attack in Syria with Da'esh killing over 60 people.  And I also wanted to ask you, Mr. de Mistura as well as yourself have been saying that the talks or the attempt of talks at the end of August would be for political transition in Syria, and we know that there are parties that have said that under no circumstance would that be a condition for talks.  Can you explain that, please?

Deputy Spokesman:  I've mentioned in recent days what Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, has been sayings about the talks and those remain… he said yesterday that he does intend to hold the talks next month, that is to say in August, but he wants there to be the right atmosphere for talks and part of that involves the understanding that was reached between Secretary of State John Kerry of the United States and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of Russia being adhered to and followed up on by the various parties.  Regarding your question about the latest attacks, what I can say on that is that the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, strongly condemns the bomb blasts claimed by Islamic State that hit the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishly near the Turkish border on Wednesday, killing at least 31 people and wounding 170.  He said that the parties involved in the Syrian conflict must not forget that Da'esh is waiting to take advantage of the hesitation of the international community to come to a peaceful political end to this horrific war.  He reiterated the urgent need for progress on the political transition, as well as the cessation of hostilities, humanitarian access, and counter-terrorism.  Thanks, I'm going to get our guest now.

For information media. Not an official record.