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5 August 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.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General participated in the Olympic Torch Relay in Rio de Janeiro this morning, accepting the torch from International Olympics Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach.  After running with it for 100 metres, he handed it over to Thaiza Vitória da Silva, who is a 15-year-old handball player.  She will be representing the 400 girls currently participating in the “One Win Leads to Another” joint programme with UN-Women and the IOC, which is aimed at promoting sports activities for adolescent girls.

Later this evening, the Secretary-General will attend the opening ceremonies of the 31st Olympic Games.

Yesterday, he had the opportunity to spend some time with the Refugee Olympic Team.  He saluted their work and determination.  He told them that their courage was an inspiration for all.  The full remarks were issued last night.

**Iran

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said today that the execution of 20 people in Iran this week for purported terrorism-related offences was “a grave injustice.”

High Commissioner Zeid said reports suggest that most, if not all, of those executed were from a minority group — Sunnis from the Kurdish community.

He said that there were serious doubts about the fairness of the trials, respect for due process and other rights of the accused.

The High Commissioner said that “the application of overly broad and vague criminal charges, coupled with a disdain for the rights of the accused to due process and a fair trial have in these cases led to a grave injustice.”

High Commissioner Zeid also condemned the execution last month of a 19-year-old, who was 17 when he was convicted of rape.  He said that the execution of juvenile offenders is particularly abhorrent and he urged Iran to respect the strict prohibition under international human rights law against this practice.

**Syria

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is very concerned about the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation across Syria’s Aleppo city, but particularly for the estimated 250,000 to 275,000 people trapped in eastern Aleppo.

The UN and its partners had been providing assistance including regular food supplies from across the border in Turkey to some 144,000 people, as well as assistance to thousands of others, up until 7 July, when the last available route into eastern Aleppo, the Castello Road, was cut off by fighting.  While the UN had pre-positioned basic assistance inside the city, reports are that with the lack of access and the ongoing fighting, the situation is deteriorating.

Our humanitarian colleagues consider any initiative that can provide relief to people in need as a positive step, including the recently announced proposal to establish corridors, provided that humanitarian and protection guarantees are met by all parties.  It is critical that the security of such corridors is guaranteed by all relevant parties.  Movement through the corridors must be two-way, meaning allowing humanitarian access in and civilian movement out and in.

For any humanitarian operation to be successful, including the proposed corridors, the UN proposal for having, at a minimum, weekly 48-hour humanitarian pauses or a full-fledged ceasefire to reach those trapped in eastern Aleppo is essential.

Where there’s a will there’s a way:  The World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), have been using huge cranes to deliver food and hygiene kits from Jordan to displaced persons in Syria — over a berm that separates the two countries.

In the first delivery of humanitarian assistance since the border was sealed in June, some 650 metric tonnes of aid were delivered to two locations, Rukban and Hadalat, over three days.

More than 75,000 people seeking to escape the conflict in Syria are living in tents near the embankments between the two countries.

WFP said that most are women, children and the elderly who have no access to food or medicine.  More details and pictures are on the WFP website, and videos of the cranes are on today’s UNIFEED.

**Lake Chad Basin

In a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General welcomed the signing of an agreement between the European Commission and the African Union Commission, in Brussels on 1 August 2016, for a €50 million European Union contribution to the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), an initiative of the Lake Chad Basin countries and Benin to combat Boko Haram in the subregion.

The Secretary-General commended the Lake Chad Basin countries and Benin for the significant progress achieved in combating the terrorist threat posed by Boko Haram.  And he reiterated the United Nations readiness to continue to support regional efforts in the fight against terrorism, consistent with its mandate.  The full statement is online.

**Ukraine

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reported today that aid convoys have reached conflict-affected populations in the non-Government controlled area of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine.

It was the first delivery in five months for thousands of people who had their homes damaged or destroyed during the conflict.

Two separate convoys of 25 trucks each travelled with support from WFP and local partners to deliver supplies.

The first, on Thursday, delivered 23,000 roofing sheets.  The second, today, had cement, bricks, roofing material, tarpaulins and nails as well as kitchen sets and jerry cans.

UNHCR estimates that some 10,000 houses in non-Government controlled areas of Luhansk have been damaged as a result of the conflict.

**General Assembly

And we also have available in our office a press release from the President of the UN General Assembly concerning the appointment of two more special advisers.  That is available on the counter there.

**Questions and Answers

Are there any questions before… for me before we head towards our weekend?  Yes, Carmen Maria?

Question:  Thank you.  Farhan, there has been a call from different rapporteurs or human rights experts regarding the press and the media in Venezuela being harassed, and I wanted to know how the Secretary‑General feels in this new situation by the Rapporteur of Freedom of Expression of the UN.  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, the Special Rapporteurs report to the Human Rights Council, and it's up to the Human Rights Council to evaluate what they have to say.  Regarding the Secretary‑General's position, the Secretary‑General has repeatedly made public calls for meaningful dialogue to address Venezuela's pressing challenges.  The Secretary‑General recognizes that the country's multiple challenges are significant and are seriously affecting the daily life of Venezuelan citizens.  He hopes the Government and the opposition will continue to show political will and flexibility to foster the democratic space for dialogue, adhering to respect for State institutions, the protection of human rights, the rule of law and the Constitution, for the benefit of the Venezuelan people.  Yes, Oleg?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  While meeting the IOC President, Thomas Bach, yesterday, did Ban Ki‑moon discuss this very widely discussed topic right now, the doping in sports, the use of dope, doping, and also, the situation with the Russian athletes?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, at this stage, I… there's no readout of the… his talks with Mr. Bach.  I believe it was just to wish him well on the start of the Olympics.  And today he actually accepted the Olympic torch from him during the relay, as I'd just mentioned.  I don't have anything to say on the issue of doping.  Yes, Benny?

Question:  Well, more on this El Halaby guy, the World Vision guy.  Apparently, in 2014, OCHA tweeted a page of World Humanitarian Day in which he was profiled prominently and called humanitarian hero.  Does that indicate that… you know, that the UN bodies, including OCHA, the Humanitarian Coordinator in the West Bank and Gaza, that they have enough scrutiny of who their, well, humanitarian heroes are?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, of course, we need to be apprised of what the latest information is.  As I mentioned yesterday, we take this very seriously, and we're monitoring what happens.  Obviously, humanitarian groups, as a general principle, need to make sure that their personnel are adequately vetted.  From our standpoint, of course, this is not a UN employee, but this is a matter of concern for us, and we'll keep apprised as this process goes on.

Question:  True, he's not a UN employee, but he was… before this job, he was a UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) employee, and that story… that profile of him, which explained why I am humanitarian and had like a very, you know, praising story on him was on a UN webpage, which I understand is now removed.

 

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I've relayed to you what the Secretary‑General's concerns are on this.  And, like I said, we'll await to get more facts about this.  It would be a very serious thing, if true.

Question:  And one more.  Australia has yesterday announced that it suspends… until further investigations suspends its support of World Vision.  Does the UN plan to do anything on that level as far as its humanitarian coordination, suspend cooperation with World Vision until things come out?

Deputy Spokesman:  We'll need to see what… again, what the facts in the case are and also how World Vision responds.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  I wanted to ask you something about… on Western Sahara and also South Sudan.  In Western Sahara, there's a letter that I've seen from a staff union, UNISUR and another union, basically saying that the staff that are supposed to be returned have received a letter that makes them doubt that they'll actually be returned, and the letter from the staff union to the Secretary‑General and Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous talks about political compromises and urges a compliance with UN rules in terms of how the staff are… are treated.  Can you confirm receipt of the letter?  And what is the response of the Secretariat to the staff union, saying that basically the rights of staff under the rules are being traded away from political convenience?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we're… certainly, we are aware of the letter.  I don't have any response to share with you at this point.  I believe that that will be considered.

Question:  Okay.  And I wanted to ask, on South Sudan, I've seen this… this… couple of things, but one is a series of instructions to UN staff that, when stopped by South Sudanese authorities, to not roll down the window more than one inch, to not relinquish IDs, various… various things.  And there's also then in Yambio an order by the Government that all UN staff that come into the county have to register with the National Safety and Security Service.  Is that consistent with the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement)?  And also, is this… are… do these rules, including not giving an ID to police when asked, is this something that the UN does elsewhere?  What… is this unique to South Sudan, and does it comply with the SOFA?

Deputy Spokesman:  The UN is certainly complying with the Status of Forces Agreement, and we implore all parties to do so as well.  Regarding the measures put in place, what we are emphasizing is the need for free movement of all UN personnel, and that needs to be respected in accordance with the Status of Forces Agreement.

Question:  This registration with a relatively controversial National Safety and Security Service, is the UN complying with that?  It's…

Deputy Spokesman:  We are… you know, we certainly won't do anything to put staff lives in danger, but the basic point is that we have been in touch on these issues, and we want to make sure that the Status of Forces Agreement is complied with.  One of the things, by the way, in the Status of Forces Agreement, and I'm just quoting; this is a public document, and you can see it on the website.  It says, "The Government undertakes to facilitate the entry into and departure from South Sudan without delay or hindrance of the Special Representatives and members of UNMISS (United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan) and shall be kept informed of such movement."  We have rules governing the freedom of movement into and out of South Sudan as well as through South Sudan, and we would like those to be observed.

Question:  Just one more about South Sudan.  Yesterday, I'd asked you about this process of registration, and you'd said you thought it was going, you know, as required.  There's an AP story saying that people haven't been registered, and there's a Times story now saying that Stephen O'Brien acknowledges that it's going slowly.  So what is the status of… of trying to fix that?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's going, but it is going slowly, given also different things, including the large numbers of people in certain areas as well as the unrest in different areas.  However, different agencies, including the World Food Programme, are trying to deal with registration, trying to get people registered as efficiently as possible and are also dealing with community elders to make sure that people can be processed.

Question:  But is the non‑registration… does this result in a lack of food, which causes women to have to leave the camp and subjects them to risk of rape?  That's the question.

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said, the World Food Programme is trying to get food to all those in need.  They're also working with community elders to make sure that people's needs are provided for, even as they process registration.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  No, Stefano?

Question:  I'm sorry.  I arrived late, so I don't know if you already… somebody asked but about the straw polls that the Security Council took just a few… I mean, any reaction?  The ballot is still done in the same way and…

Deputy Spokesman:  I guess all we can say is we're glad to know that the process is continuing.  Obviously, the matter is, at this point, in the hands of the Security Council, and we'll leave it in their hands.  Yes, Oleg?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan; again, during the visit to Rio de Janeiro, Ban Ki‑moon will have an opportunity to meet a lot of regional leaders.  Will he meet somebody from Venezuela?  Because the situation is… over there is tense, as you may know.

Deputy Spokesman:  There's nothing scheduled on that so far.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask on Burundi, something new and then one as a follow‑up question.  There's reports there of a mass grave of 12 bodies being unearthed in Ngozi, and so I wanted to know if it's something that has reached your office or if the UN's going to have any role in examining that.  And also, I'd asked you about Lieutenant Colonel Mayuyu, deployment… people continue to say that he's actually being deployed to CAR (Central African Republic), and they've linked him to a unit that was involved in… in… in torture and other abuse in December 2015.  So what… is that, in fact, being re… I don't know if you looked into it, but I did ask it here.  Go ahead.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  I did look into that.  As far as I'm aware from our colleagues in MINUSCA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic), they're not aware that this person is on any of their rosters.  They're continuing to check to see whether it was under a different name or something, but no.  At this point, we don't have that.  Regarding a mass grave in Ngozi, of course, we're concerned about any reports of mass graves, and I'll look and see whether we have anything further about this particular…

Question:  And did you have… I just wanted to follow up.  Yesterday I'd asked about Han Seung‑soo and whether he's the Special Adviser.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, yes, he remains Special Adviser.  I've put in a request to the Ethics Office to see whether he's made any notifications of different business dealings.  I believe he may have done some, but I'm trying to get it from the Ethics Office.  Alas, at this time of summer, there are some offices that are… will be harder to get replies back from so I'll let you know once I have it.

Question:  Sure.  I guess I want to understand.  There's a rule that says a person needs approval from the Secretary‑General for outside.  Does that apply here, or is it just a matter of saying that you're doing it?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first I need to check, again, whether the Ethics Office has had any notifications of any other activities.  Have a good weekend, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.