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

28 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.


Earlier this morning, we issued the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General:  The Secretary-General appeals to the Government of Indonesia to stop the reportedly imminent execution of a number of prisoners for alleged drug-related crimes.

The United Nations opposes the use of capital punishment in all circumstances.  Under international law, if the death penalty is to be used at all, it should only be imposed for the “most serious crimes,” namely those involving intentional killing.  Drug crimes are generally not considered to meet this threshold.

The Secretary-General urges President Joko Widodo to consider declaring a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in Indonesia and to move towards its abolition.

**Security Council

The Secretary-General spoke at today’s Security Council debate on peacebuilding in Africa, and he said that as the meeting was taking place, South Sudan remains precariously poised on the brink of an abyss.  He warned that the promises of the new State for peace, justice and opportunity have been squandered.  The Secretary-General said that he was appalled by the scale of sexual violence documented by UN Human Rights teams, and he demanded accountability for all atrocities and urged the leaders of South Sudan to commit to the peace process.

The Secretary-General said that instability also persists in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya and Mali, and a number of other nations.  But he added that in other countries, effective institutions are being built, and he noted that inclusive and accountable institutions are the cement that bonds States and citizens.

The Secretary-General said that, despite praise for the Peacebuilding Fund in the recent peace and security reviews, it faces a desperate funding shortfall.  To deliver on the collective commitment to sustain peace, he asked Governments to help the Peacebuilding Fund Pledging Conference in September to achieve the funding target of $300 million dollars.

**South Sudan

I was asked yesterday about the relocation of people from Tomping Compound in South Sudan, and I can inform you that the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reports that the initial phase of voluntary relocations of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the Tomping Compound to the protection of civilians (PoC) site 3 adjacent to UN House in Juba began today.

The decision to relocate people was made due to inadequate humanitarian infrastructure and capacity in Tomping.  It is also intended to provide them with better conditions and humanitarian services that are already in place in the protection of civilians site.

This is a coordinated effort by UNMISS and humanitarian partners, including the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is providing logistical support.

I was also asked about escorts from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) yesterday.  The Mission says that it had sought security assurances from the Government, the National Security Service and the SPLA in order to guarantee the safe passage of the displaced people from Tomping to protection of civilians site 3.  UNMISS will be providing force protection to the convoy from Tomping to the final destination, while the Joint Verification Monitoring Mechanism, with support from the South Sudan National Police Service, agreed to deploy in strategic areas along the route to ensure the convoy's timely passage.


I just received the following statement from the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien:

The situation for people trapped in eastern Aleppo remains of the gravest concern.  As he told the UN Security Council on Monday, we demand safe, regular and sustained access to the quarter of a million people trapped behind the front lines.  All options must be considered.

The Emergency Relief Coordination is aware of the measures proposed today by the Russian Federation to set up humanitarian corridors.

It is critical that the security of any such corridors is guaranteed by all parties and that people are able to use them voluntarily.  No one can be forced to flee, by any specific route or to any particular location.  Protection must be guaranteed for all according to the principles of neutrality and impartiality.

The UN proposal for 48-hour humanitarian pauses to enable cross-line and cross-border operations is what we as humanitarians require.  This is to ensure that we are able to see for ourselves the dire situation of the people, assess their needs, adjust to logistical constraints and assist people where they are now with their life-saving and protection needs.

In any event, Mr. O’Brien says, all parties are required and obliged, under long-established and accepted International Humanitarian Law, to allow safe, unimpeded, impartial and immediate humanitarian access for civilians to leave and for aid to come in.

The Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, spoke to reporters in Geneva today and told them that fighting on the ground is impeding humanitarian aid in the country.  He is seriously concerned about Aleppo, saying that the city is de facto besieged, because it is almost completely encircled militarily.

On the humanitarian side, the Special Envoy is urging the two co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), the Russian Federation and the United States, to expedite discussions on how to reduce violence, along the lines of the meetings in Moscow and then in Laos, particularly between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State John Kerry.

Mr. de Mistura said that his Deputy Special Envoy, Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, will head to Damascus in the next few days to discuss with the Syrian authorities some ideas that the Office of the Special Envoy has developed in order to facilitate the launch in August of the Intra-Syrian Talks.

Meanwhile, the Special Envoy is proceeding to Tehran to talk to the Iranian authorities.  We’ll make the transcript of his press remarks available shortly.


The UN’s Children Fund, UNICEF, welcomed today the Human Rights Watch report entitled Extreme Measures:  Abuses against Children Detained as National Security Threats.

UNICEF urges Governments to prioritize the rights of children by implementing the report’s recommendations and complying with international juvenile justice standards.  More information is available online.

**Southern Africa

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) presented today a response plan to what it describes as a race against time in drought-ravaged Southern Africa to ensure that 23 million people receive farming support.

With only a few weeks before land preparation begins for the next main cropping season, the plan aims to ensure that seeds, fertilizers, tools, and other inputs and services are provided to small-holder farmers to cope with the El Niño-induced drought in the region.

The FAO warns that at least $109 million in funding is required to avoid these 23 million people being dependent on humanitarian assistance until mid-2018.  More details are available on FAO’s website.

**Senior Personnel Appointment

For appointments:  today, the Secretary-General is announcing the appointment of Natalia Kanem of Panama as Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director at the UN Population Fund, or UNFPA, in charge of Programmes.

Ms. Kanem will succeed Kate Gilmore of Australia, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for her dedicated service and commitment to the Organization.

Dr. Kanem brings to the position over 25 years of progressive leadership experience in the fields of medicine, public and reproductive health, peace, social justice, and philanthropy.  We have plenty more about her career in a press release in our office.

**Press Conferences

In a short while I will be joined by Ambassador Oh Joon, President of the Economic and Social Council.  And then tomorrow at 4:30 p.m., in this room, Ambassador Koro Bessho, Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations, will hold a press conference on the end of Japan’s presidency of the Security Council.

**Questions and Answers

And that is it for me.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The General Assembly yesterday by an oral decision decided to ask the States to pursue the reform of the Security Council matter at its forthcoming session.  Isn't this another case of kicking down the can?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, ultimately, as you know, all of the questions involving Security Council reform entail the involvement and the participation of the Member States, so it is up to the Member States to determine how they want to proceed.  If this is what they choose to do, this is the decision of the Member States and that's part of the process as outlined in the UN Charter.  Yes, Oleg?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On this Russian initiative on organizing the corridors out of Aleppo, was the UN in any way consulted prior to this?  Are you… will you take part in it?  Was there any request like that?  Thank you. 

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you have heard what I just read on behalf of Stephen O'Brien; that is where we stand.  This is an announcement that was made just recently.  This is the reaction that we have as the UN system to it for now, and we will continue to study the proposals as we have time to do so.  Yes, you.

Question:  Daniel Lakin, I’m here for a few days for Al Jazeera in English, and any comment at all out of the petition filed by legal counsel on behalf of Ex‑President Lula of Brazil with the UN in Geneva, alleging severe violations of his civil and political rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think that is a question for our colleagues at the Office of High Commissioner of Human Rights.  I'll check and see how they are following up on that.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you on South Sudan.  I've seen a letter from the Government to UNMISS, saying that going forward, all entries to the country require 72 hours' notice and also some further restrictions on leaving.  I've also seen a memo, a broadcast of UNMISS telling people that they have complied with this and if they don't they can basically be charged money if they seek to travel outside of the restrictions imposed by the Government.  I wanted to know whether these restrictions comply with the Status of Forces Agreement, and if they don't, why UNMISS is not only acquiescing to them but charging staff for not complying with them?

Deputy Spokesman:  I would need to check whether this is something that is happening.  I'm not aware of this as a matter of policy.

Question:  A broadcast on this staff today about this. 

Deputy Spokesman:  I will have to check about what the details are of that.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  Yes, we just heard from the Ukrainian Ambassador concerning an action by President [Vladimir] Putin to what it sounded like to me at least to further integrate Crimea into Russia.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on this latest move by President Putin?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  We don't have a comment.  I would just refer you to the relevant resolution that was taken by the General Assembly on this.  Yes?

Question:  I wanted to ask… I heard that in the talks in Kuwait on Yemen that the Houthi and [Ali Abdullah] Saleh side have announced that they are setting up a high political council to essentially run the country and many people are interpreting this as an end to the talks in Kuwait.  Do you have any comment on it, and is there any discussion in terms of maybe seeking a new UN envoy to be dealing with these issues?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are aware that Ansar Allah, the General People's Congress (GPC), and their allies have signed an Agreement today establishing a Political Council with broad political, military, security, economic, administrative and social executive and legislative powers.  The Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said that this development contravenes the commitments provided by Ansar Allah and the GPC to support the UN‑led peace process.  The announcement of unilateral governing arrangements is not in line with the peace process and endangers the substantial progress made during the Kuwait talks.  There is a clear violation of the Yemeni Constitution and the provisions of the GCC Initiative and its implementation Mechanism.  I would also like to recall that Security Council resolution 2216 explicitly demands that all Yemeni parties must refrain from further unilateral actions that could undermine the political transaction in Yemen.

Question:  Follow‑up question.  Do you… Kuwait had set a two‑week deadlines for the talks to reach some kind of conclusion.  I've heard that Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is asking for an extension.  Is that true, and do you believe that Kuwait will grant it?  And that's why I was asking about the possible end of the talks. 

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I can't speak for Kuwaiti authorities.

Question:  Kuwait.  Sure.  Are you asking for an extension?

Deputy Spokesman:  But regarding our side, at this point the talks are continuing.  If there is any need for us to ask for any extension, we will let you know.  But at this point the talks have been continuing.  Of course, you've heard what we have said about this latest development, however.  Yes, Stefano?

Question:   Thank you.  This is a question I asked a long time ago and I ask it again and just because after less than yesterday President [Barack] Obama referring as usual to the terrorist organization ISIL.  They call it, the United States Government calls it ISIL.  So I ask months, months ago:  What is the official name that the UN uses?  I heard you talk and say Da'esh, Da'esh, journalists says ISIS, what is it?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's the same words to describe the same thing.  Da'esh simply is the Arabic acronym.  ISIL is the English acronym.  It's the same term.

Question:  Now, well, from what I understood there is a big difference.  If I understand what, maybe, maybe I'm wrong, but that is what I understood, that ISIL means Islamic State of Iraq and Levant?  Levant makes a much bigger State than it is now.  It goes… so I don't understand.  I'm asking again because… 

Deputy Spokesman:   But the equivalent of that, Da'esh stands for Dawa al‑Islamiya fi Iraq wa al‑Shams.  So Dawa al‑Islamiya means Islamic State.  Fi Iraq, in Iraq.  And al‑Shams:  Now, the question is what is al‑Shams?  Does that translate to Levant or to Syria or what?  So they are different ways of interpreting that, but what we use here on this podium is Da'esh.  What the Security Council uses in its resolutions is ISIL.

Question:  And I'm sorry, I'm going to close, but it doesn't make sense to call what you call a terrorist organization then give them a name, they actually make the State even bigger of what it is?

Deputy Spokesman:  What we do, like I said, from the Secretary‑General and from this podium, is call it Da'esh.  We are not trying to give it any credit for any State status and we're not trying to give it any credit over control of any portion of Iraq or Syria or any other entity.  Those are sovereign entities and they have their territorial integrity enshrined as a principle in the UN Charter.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, thanks a lot.  Western Sahara and then something else.  Just on Western Sahara, Moroccan Ambassador at the stakeout, I guess it was on Tuesday, referred to a package, said that there was some package as an agreement between the Secretariat and Morocco… that it's not just a one‑way street.  It's not just about them letting in back staff.  There are things that the UN is supposed to do.  But three Security Council members have said they didn't hear anything about a package from Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous.  So is there… has the UN agreed to anything different than was the case before with Morocco in order to get these staff members back?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  I'm not aware that we have agreed to anything, beyond steps in order to obtain the return of staff.

Question:  Okay, great.  And I wanted to ask, yesterday I asked you about this event that is scheduled for 2 August and you told me to speak to the group and Mr. Sullivan didn't know he was on the list, and wouldn't speak at it.  Since then I've seen there are at least three other events at which he did speak by the same group, involving the same group and that he is on board of directors of the sponsor of the 2 August thing, that Jackie Brewer Foundation.  So I guess what I wanted to know is, one, to me it seems strange that he didn't know that he was listed by them if he is on the board of directors.  But I also wanted to ask, I've seen the Secretary‑General orders called outside activities that say staff members should not engage in outside these activities without the approval of the Secretary‑General.  So I wanted to know, since this is a private, for‑profit company that has had its stock pitched based on the involvement of UN DSS (Department of Safety and Security), whether the Secretary‑General has, in fact, approved this or not?  And, if not, what happens next? 

Deputy Spokesman:  As I told you, he is not appearing at their function.  He was not aware of this.

Question:  Did you look into it?  He is on the board of directors of the group, so I'm asking.

Deputy Spokesman:  This person who, by the way, has informed me that you apparently have taken some sort of gripe with him because he tried to talk to you at a stakeout.  I'm aware…

Question:  It's not a gripe.  I'm asking you about an official DSS official on the board.  You are cutting me off.  I thought that was unprofessional.  I'm asking a question, how does this regulation apply?

Deputy Spokesman:  I was actually in the process of answering you, and then you can talk.  This is how conversations go: I talk and you talk and so forth.

Question:  Just that you walk away, so that is why I'm making sure I want to ask, there are number of other questions on this. 

Deputy Spokesman:  Matthew, that is not fair.  I take a huge amount of questions from you, as every transcript and every video will show.  Now, I have no problem with you asking questions.  I do not think that you should try to use the briefing in terms of personal vendettas against people.  If that is what you are doing, it's unethical and I would have a problem with that.

Question:  You can say whatever you want.  Okay, what I'm asking, a senior UN DSS official is, this is all online, these are all… you could have found them yourselves with ten minutes of Googling.  He is on the board of directors of a group that you said didn't know put him on the list and there have been three separate events, one about sneakers, one about concussions in the NFL (National Football League), and these have all taken place in the ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) Trusteeship Chamber.  So my question is for the service of this individual on the board of directors of a for‑profit company for a for‑profit event, has the Secretary‑General given permission?  And, if not, is this reflective of a lack of due diligence as in the Ng Lap Seng case, "Yes" or "No"?

Question:  First of all, to the extent that DSS ever gives briefings at these, there are briefings about security conditions.  Those are standard; outside of those, I'm not aware…

Question:  I urge you to look at the press releases. 

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not aware of anything that is not a standard briefing.  Second of all, did you do any of this Googling before you had your conversation in the corridors with him? 

Question:  Yes, I have.  I've been actually following… I wrote about the concussion event because it's a joke these events take place in the UN that are raising money, so I'm now I'm asking you about these events because you said he didn't know and it's not credible.  He has done three events.  Look at them and see whether there were safety concerns. 

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said, I have talked to this person and this is what he said.  Now you have a question, right? 

Question:  Just a brief question.  I know you can't comment on the US political contest right now, but are you following Mr. [Donald] Trump's consideration of recognizing Crimea as Russian territory?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are aware of comments made in political contests.  We wouldn't have any reaction to the things that are being said during the course of electoral campaign, however.  With that, let me get to our guest.  One moment, please.

For information media. Not an official record.