The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, everyone. And welcome to our visiting journalists. We’ll start off with South Sudan.
In Mali, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission, MINUSMA, reports that, on 30 July, fighting broke out between the Groupe d’Autodéfense Tuareg Imghad et Alliés and the Coordination des Mouvements de l’Azawad, in Kidal region in the vicinity of Touzik. As a precautionary security measure, the Mission has strengthened its positions. The Mission is monitoring the developments on the ground with continued patrols and a number of checkpoints in Kidal. The situation in Kidal remains calm and tense and MINUSMA continues to provide the parties with its good offices to appease tensions.
I was asked last week about Personal Envoy Christopher Ross’s travels concerning Western Sahara. Over the past weeks, Mr. Ross has been in frequent contact with the parties and neighbouring States on the need to reinvigorate the Western Sahara negotiating process, as well as on the timing of his next visits to the North African region. Now that the Security Council has welcomed the results of the agreement on MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara] and reiterated its call for renewed negotiations, nothing stands in the way of Mr. Ross's return to the North African region to pursue his facilitation efforts. A formal proposal is being made to the parties and neighbouring States.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, today said that he was concerned that innocent people have been — and may continue to be — executed in Iraq in reaction to the 3 July bombing in Baghdad that took more than 300 lives. He said that it is “all too easy to permit such atrocities to stoke the fires of vengeance. But, vengeance is not justice." He said that UN monitoring has revealed "a consistent failure to respect due process and fair trial standards, including a reliance on torture to extract confessions." He added that executions of innocent people are “gross, irreversible miscarriages of justice”. The High Commissioner said that according to the Iraqi Government, 45 death sentences have been carried out since the beginning of 2016 and an estimated 1,200 individuals are on death row.
The UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, visited Tehran on Sunday, where he held discussions with Iranian Assistant Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari on the means of pushing forward the political settlement for the crisis in Syria. Also, on Sunday, Deputy Special Envoy Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem and Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad. The meeting was part of the Office’s regular, ongoing consultations with the Government of Syria. Mr. Ramzy informed the Foreign Minister of the Special Envoy’s intention to reconvene the intra-Syrian Talks towards the end of August, with a focus on the political transition.
The UN remains deeply concerned over the plight of 250,000 to 275,000 people trapped in Aleppo. Reports indicate that intense fighting has continued in the last days, and that many stores have closed as food runs low. The UN calls on all parties to the conflict to allow safe, unimpeded and impartial humanitarian access in line with international humanitarian law. Meanwhile, an inter-agency convoy delivered food, nutrition, health, water, sanitation, hygiene and other emergency items for 71,000 people in need to the hard-to-reach area of Al Houla, in Homs governorate yesterday. Surgical items were removed from health kits during the loading.
The Government of Yemen delegation departed Kuwait today after submitting a letter to Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, agreeing to the content of a draft peace agreement proposed by the United Nations to resolve the conflict in Yemen. The Special Envoy said that the departure of the Government of Yemen delegation from Kuwait is not a departure from the peace talks. He said that he had agreed with the parties to keep the talks ongoing until they agree on next steps in the coming days, which shall be dedicated to intensive meetings with the Ansar Allah-General People’s Congress delegation, as well as with concerned members of the international community.
The World Food Programme (WFP) succeeded this month in reaching 55,000 people in a hard-to-reach district of Taiz City, Al Qahira, providing food assistance through food vouchers using a local supplier’s network. WFP launched this innovative way of delivering food assistance earlier this year in Sana’a City. It has since expanded to other parts of Yemen including Aden and Taiz, enabling WFP to reach more than 600,000 people compared to only 120,000 in February.
For the month of July, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) documented 12 civilian deaths and 29 injuries during the conduct of hostilities across the country. The Mission documented 5 deaths and 18 people wounded in Benghazi, 4 deaths and 11 wounded in Derna and 3 deaths in Kufra. There are further details on the Mission’s website.
**World Food Programme
The World Food Programme (WFP) today reported that it is rapidly scaling up life-saving operations for several African communities suffering from effects of two bad harvests. The agency is assisting the communities in Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Madagascar, among others. The most recent drought was linked to an intense El Niño weather event. It was one of the strongest on record. Its peak coincided with the crucial October-December 2015 growing season. WFP is assisting with food and cash while attempting to strengthen resilience-building.
And today is the first day of World Breastfeeding Week. More than 170 countries in the world are participating in efforts to support breastfeeding to improve the health of babies around the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), breastfeeding is the best way to provide infants with the nutrients they need. WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding, starting within one hour after birth until a baby is six months old. The agency said breastfeeding continues to be an essential source of nutrition until the age of two and beyond. WHO said that the practice needs to be protected, promoted and supported, particularly among poor and vulnerable groups.
And for the honour roll, as we creep towards the century mark, Guatemala comes in as ninety-eighth Member State on the Honour Roll, having paid its regular budget dues in full for 2016. Gracias, Guatemala.
And last, at 5 p.m., the Ambassador of Malaysia [Ramlan Bin Ibrahim] will brief you in this room on the Security Council’s programme of work for August. Malaysia takes over as Security Council President today. Yes, Carol.
Questions and Answers
Question: Farhan, I wanted to ask about the US air strikes in Libya which the Pentagon says were at the request of the Libyan Government, which the UN is supporting. What role did the UN have in drafting this request and what can you tell us?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we are aware of the reports that the US has carried out a number of air strikes on Da'esh positions in Sirte earlier today. We understand that, according to Prime Minister [Fayez el] Sarraj, these air strikes were requested by the Government of National Accord and are following the situation closely. Yes, Edie?
Question: Farhan, I have two questions. I noted what you said about Staffan de Mistura's talks in Iran and Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy in Damascus; but today is 1 August, and that was supposed to be the deadline for the start of the transition negotiations in Syria. And I wonder whether the Secretary‑General is concerned… disappointed that this deadline is passing without any movement on that issue? And I have one more question, but please.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, on that, of course, it's discouraging how long it's taken to get any movement on talks, and so any delays in the process are discouraging. And yet, at the same time, we have to be aware, as Staffan de Mistura has repeatedly made clear, that we want to make sure that these are not just talks for the sake of talks, but these are negotiations that can accomplish something. So, to that extent, Mr. Ramzy is in Damascus today and he has invited the Syrian authorities to come to talks by the end of this month. What our hope is is that, by then, we will have the right atmosphere for productive negotiations, productive discussions to take place. At this stage, we are not at that point, and from all the things we have been reporting in recent days, you can see why that is. But, at the same time, as you know, the guarantors of the International Syria Support Group have been working with each other and we want to see what the results of that will be, and our hope again is that by the end of this month, we will have intra-Syrian talks going.
Question: My second question was that ahead of the Security Council meeting tomorrow on children and armed conflict, I wonder if you could update us on the state of the contacts between the United Nations and Saudi Arabia on the report and the probe into the details of the allegations?
Deputy Spokesman: Certainly, the Saudi authorities have provided some communication in recent days as part of our ongoing review into this situation. I will leave it to the Secretary‑General to characterize those discussions. He is going to give a briefing in a public meeting on this tomorrow, and so, you will be able to hear from him what kind of results have been made.
Question: Just as a quick follow‑up, were there… were there meetings between UN and Saudi officials, either here or in Riyadh?
Deputy Spokesman: There have been no meetings in Riyadh. Of course you will have seen that different officials, including the Deputy Crown Prince and the Foreign Minister, have been here and we've issued readouts of those meetings. Yes?
Question: Sure, I wanted to ask you about Burundi. Following the resolution on Friday, which authorizes up to 228 police, I wanted to know what the Secretariat is thinking in terms of actually deploying and seeking consent, in light of… over the weekend, there were a number of protests in Bujumbura and a number of people including some invited to the Arusha talks have issued threats that anyone deployed will be killed, so what is the Secretariat going to do now?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we are aware of that. At the same time, of course, the Security Council has spoken. They have made clear what their wishes are and we will follow up on that. And, of course, from our standpoint, the next thing to do will be to reach out to potential police-contributing countries and see what… how quickly we can get a police force that will comply with the request for the Security Council.
Question: Sure, without actually asking what was said at the stakeout by Ambassador [François] Delattre that consent is absolutely needed, so what is the process for… for the UN seeking consent? And also just on these threats, including death threats, since the UN supports these Arusha talks, does it seem inconsistent to you that people invited and participating in the talks would be publicly issuing death threats to UN police?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding that, I'll leave it to the facilitators of the Arusha talks to discuss the Arusha talks, but, from our standpoint, what we want to do is make sure that any mandate… Security Council-mandated force is able to go about its work. And as with every other country, we then deal with the host Government to make sure that will happen. Yes, in the back? No, no, behind you.
Question: Yeah. I want to thank you very much on behalf of all the journalists here. We have a great opportunity. And my question is not directly related to what you said but it's still an ongoing thing. And it's regarding the Indian-occupied part of Kashmir, the disputed territory, the ongoing atrocities, people are being, you know, killed and there are a number of people who are being hidden [inaudible], what has the United Nations done specifically in this regard and what further United Nations can do, just to stop this act which right now is going on in the disputed territory of Kashmir?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the United Nations has repeatedly, including just a few weeks ago, put out the message to both sides about the need for them to work constructively with each other on this issue. And we will continue to monitor the situation including, of course, through our monitoring group on the ground, UNMOGIP [United Nations Military Observers in India and Pakistan].
Question: Follow‑up: was the United Nations thing the UN rights are being violated right now in this disputed territory of Kashmir by Indian forces?
Deputy Spokesman: I would refer you to the work of our Human Rights colleagues in Geneva, but we have issued periodic communications on this. Yes, Masood?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. On the Iranian nuclear deal, Iran's President [Hassan] Rouhani has gone on record saying it has fulfilled its part of the deal, but the United States continues to drag its feet on doing its thing and many deals, including Boeing deal, is now in jeopardy, so do you think if that deal is going through as it should have been or does the United Nations Secretary‑General have an opinion about this situation?
Deputy Spokesman: We expressed our opinion on this just recently, about a week or so back. As you know, the last month the resolution by the Security Council concerning Iran and non-proliferation marked its first anniversary; we put out a statement at that time and the Secretary‑General spoke in the Security Council about the implementation of the resolution, so I would just refer you back to what he said at the time. Yes, Carole?
Question: Farhan, on Christopher Ross, I'm not sure, so he has put in a proposal for talks on Western Sahara, or is the idea that he would travel to the region and speak to all the parties or I'm not sure what the plan is there?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, like I said, he has been in contact with the parties and neighbouring States about the need to reinvigorate the negotiating process and on the timing of his next visits to the North African region. It's his belief that he can return to the region at any time to pursue his facilitation efforts, but regarding that, a formal proposal is being made to the parties and to the neighbouring States. I don't have any further details about a timing of a visit at this stage. Yes, Olga?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Russian transport helicopter has been shot down in Syria and according to Russian military, it happened in Idlib Province over the territory controlled by the terrorist group. Do you have more information on that? Any details what happened?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. We are aware of today's incident and we are aware of reports that it was on an operation to deliver aid. We are following with deep concern the escalation in and around Aleppo city, and call for the soonest possible restoration and consolidation of the cessation of hostilities. All populations in need of humanitarian assistance should be provided aid, wherever they are. We are continuing discussions with Russian and Syrian authorities about ways of ensuring that the humanitarian needs of the long-suffering civilian population of Aleppo, as well as other parts of Syria, are addressed. Yes, you had your hand? Yes, you. Yes, that is you. Yes?
Question: Is it me? Could you kindly clarify one report, the Sun Report that came out yesterday, about the Rio Olympics, that IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] is actually self-guarding it… protecting it? If there is a threat or any indication, could you identify that, as well? If there is none, is it not tantamount to jumping the gun, and you know, exacerbating the environment of paranoia and fear?
Deputy Spokesman: For the Rio Olympics, you said?
Correspondent: Yes, the Olympics.
Deputy Spokesman: You would need to check with my colleagues in the International Atomic Energy Agency about what, if anything, they are doing regarding that. I'm not aware of any work that they do regarding the Rio Olympics. [He later referred correspondents to the relevant information on the IAEA website: www.iaea.org/newscenter/pressreleases/iaea-to-assist-brazil-on-nuclear-security-at-2016-olympic-games] Yes?
Question: Farhan, on Yemen, could you… you said that the Government delegation was departing after accepting the UN plan. Could you clarify what has happened? What the opposition reaction is to the plan? Have they accepted it, have they accepted some of it, do they still have reservations, are they going to check?
Deputy Spokesman: Regarding that, what Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed intends to do in the coming days is to have intensive meetings with that delegation, with the Ansar Allah and General People's Congress delegation, and deal with them in terms of what their own reaction is to the plan. So, he does intend to discuss the matter with them intensively and see what progress he can make with their side. Yes, Linda?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Regarding Turkey, I know that late last week the Secretary‑General met with the Turkish ambassador at Turkey's request. I was wondering if in the foreseeable future, if there are any plans for the UN to perhaps play some kind of role regarding Turkey, and if the SG [Secretary-General] plans to or hopes to talk with either the President, Prime Minister or Foreign Minister… what I mean is, at a higher level than [Permanent Representative]?
Deputy Spokesman: The Secretary‑General spoke by phone last Wednesday with President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan, as well as with the Foreign Minister, and we issued a readout of the call with the Foreign Minister that takes the basic lines of what his response has been; but he has been in touch with them directly, yes.
Question: But, do you anticipate any further action, any more active role for the UN?
Deputy Spokesman: As this proceeds, we have been monitoring and you will have seen the statements and readouts we have put out. If there is any need for anything down the line, we will certainly issue those. Yes?
Question: Sure, I wanted to ask you in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo]. There was one very large demonstration in favour of Mr. [Etienne] Tshisekedi but Mr. [Moise] Katumbi, the also candidate or for… desiring to be candidate was banned from returning to the country by the DRC authorities, the judge had convicted him, has said that she was forced to do so and gone into hiding. Given the UN peacekeeping mission there and its role, do they have any thoughts or comments on the banning of a candidate and the Judge recanting the conviction?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I think we made our concerns known about the case of Mr. Katumbi earlier and those remain the same as when we had pointed this out. Regarding the demonstrations, the information we have from the mission is that the situation is calm in Kinshasa and they are aware that the recent demonstrations in the country took place in a relatively peaceful atmosphere.
Question: What about the banning of him returning? He was going to fly back over the weekend, on Sunday, and the Government said, turn the plane around basically. Any comment on that?
Deputy Spokesman: No. I mean, like I said, we have mentioned our concerns about this and they remain. Luke, did you have? Okay, is that it for other questions? Then one more for you.
Question: Great, sure, I have two questions, one, two. One has to do with the sentencing of Sherri Yan in the John Ashe-Ng Lap Seng case on Friday and she was sentenced to 20 months in federal prison, $300,000 of forfeiture, and Judge Broderick said the case, which is an ongoing case, has damaged the UN. So, I wanted to know, given that the case is about bribery within the UN and given the judge's statement, what is your comment on the sentencing and the continuation, continuing of the case?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we don't have any particular comment on the sentencing. Of course, we have been following this process and we have been sharing information that is relevant; but, from our standpoint, what we need to do is get to the bottom of what happened here to make sure that UN officials are not tainted by this and that ultimately everyone knows that no officials, whether Member States or otherwise, should be participating in these sorts of activities.
Correspondent: Sure, I wanted to ask you again about this… now it's coming up to 2 August, so I wanted to ask you now, this event by COPsync, which is a for‑profit company that sells equipment to the police industry, they put out a second press release dropping Mr. Sullivan as a speaker but naming Jack Brewer as a “UN ambassador for peace and support”. It's right in their press release. It's on PR news wire. The event is taking place tomorrow.
Deputy Spokesman: No, it's not.
Correspondent: On this floor, I’m asking…
Deputy Spokesman: No, it's not. That event has been cancelled.
Question: Okay, so what did you learn…
Deputy Spokesman: As far as I'm aware, I checked about the event and apparently the sponsors themselves cancelled the event. For any further details, you need to ask the sponsors.
Question: What was DSS [Department of Safety and Security] connection to the event and to the group sponsoring the event?
Deputy Spokesman: The event that did not happen?
Correspondent: I meant there have been three events that have been held here before.
Deputy Spokesman: Matthew, as I just pointed out, there is no event. You need to check with the sponsors for anything further. Yes?
Question: Hi, I'm from one of the visiting journalists and my name is Zahid, and I wanted to ask you specific questions about Kashmir again, but with concern that in the context that the pellet guns that are being used in Kashmir, which has blinded many people there, including children, do you have any plan of taking this issue seriously and probably banning it for their use?
Deputy Spokesman: Like I said, I just mentioned to your colleague of where we stand on Kashmir. I can show you the note we issued on this a couple weeks ago, but that is where we stand on that. Have a good afternoon, everyone.