16 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, everyone.

**Central Emergency Response Fund

The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, today released $50 million from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund for severely underfunded aid operations in six areas.  He said the funds will provide life-saving assistance for 2 million people in dire humanitarian need.  Some $35 million will allow humanitarian partners to respond to protracted humanitarian emergencies in Central Africa caused by armed conflicts, political instability and human rights violations, and compounded by food insecurity and disease outbreaks.

The funds will support the delivery of critical health services, access to food, emergency shelter, protection of women and girls, and water and sanitation in the Central African Republic, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  A further $13 million will boost relief operations in Yemen where an estimated 21.2 million people require humanitarian assistance.  And $2 million will support humanitarian partners in Eritrea.


The Commission of Inquiry dealing with Syria said today that it is gravely concerned for the safety of civilians, including a reported 100,000 children, living in eastern Aleppo city, saying that the situation there is critical and demands immediate attention and response.  The Commission says that neighbourhoods of Aleppo City are now being pounded daily by aerial bombardments by Government and pro-Government forces, causing mass civilian casualties.  It adds that more than 25 hospitals and clinics have been destroyed in aerial bombardments since January.

It adds that humanitarian corridors, if put in place, must be set up and implemented in a manner that complies with key humanitarian principles.  Civilians who choose to remain must have unhindered access to life-saving humanitarian assistance.  Regardless of the existence of humanitarian corridors, the warring parties still have a legal obligation not to direct attacks against civilians and civilian targets.  The Commission urges the warring parties to conduct themselves in accordance with international law.  The Commission emphasizes, however, that the attacks on Aleppo City, even if in accordance with the laws of war, will only further devastate the civilian population.


The Secretary-General condemned the reported coalition airstrike on a rural hospital supported by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Hajjah, Yemen, in a statement we issued last night.  He noted that the parties to the conflict in Yemen have damaged or destroyed over 70 health centres, including three other MSF-supported facilities.  Hospitals and medical personnel are explicitly protected under international humanitarian law and any attack directed against them, or against any civilian persons or infrastructure, is a serious violation of international humanitarian law.  All such attacks should be investigated through prompt, effective, independent and impartial mechanisms.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

A statement we issued yesterday evening said that the Secretary-General was appalled by reports of the killing of at least 36 civilians on 13 August in the area of Rwangoma village, North Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, by suspected members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).  The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms this latest attack in the Beni area where, since October 2014, several hundred civilians have been killed by suspected members of the ADF.  In a separate statement today, the Office of the [United Nations] High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) urged the Congolese authorities to promptly investigate the matter and enhance its efforts to protect civilians.


In another statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General congratulated the people of Zambia for the peaceful and orderly presidential, parliamentary and local elections, as well as the referendum on the Bill of Rights, held on 11 August.  He reminded all parties, especially political leaders and their supporters, of their responsibility to reject violence and to refrain from the use of inflammatory and incendiary language.  He also reminded them to resolve differences or disputes through constitutional means and in line with international norms and standards.  The full statement is online.

**Yellow Fever

One of the largest emergency vaccination campaigns ever attempted in Africa will start in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo this week as the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners work to curb a yellow fever outbreak that has killed more than 400 people and sickened thousands more.  The yellow fever outbreak has found its way to dense, urban areas and hard-to-reach border regions, making planning for the vaccination campaign especially complex.

Emergency yellow fever vaccination campaigns have already reached more than 13 million people in Angola and more than 3 million in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  But, some areas are still considered at high risk and preventive vaccination campaigns are planned for the capital city of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and along the country’s border with Angola, which spans more than 2,600 kilometres.


Still from the World Health Organization, they are launching today three publications to help countries improve their data on stillbirths and maternal and neonatal deaths.  The true magnitude of stillbirths and maternal and neonatal deaths is underreported, with nearly all babies who are stillborn and half of all newborn deaths not being recorded.  As a result, countries often do not know the numbers of deaths or the causes of these deaths and thus are unable to take the effective and timely actions to prevent others babies and mothers from dying.  These new publications are available on the World Health Organization’s website.


I was asked yesterday about any disclosures made by Jean Todt, who serves as a Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Road Safety and holds a dollar-a-year contract.  I can say that he is in compliance with the UN’s disclosure of interest requirements, including the disclosure of his non-UN activities.

In receiving the Secretary-General’s approval for non-UN activities with conditions, Mr. Todt has been informed of related restrictions for his non-UN activities in order to prevent and manage conflicts of interest.  Under applicable Staff Regulations and UN policies, disclosure statements are confidential and will be accessible to and used by the Secretary-General, the Ethics Office or by offices or persons specifically authorized in writing by the Secretary-General. Public disclosure is voluntary.  And that is it from me.  Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On this situation in Yemen, I mean, you know, in the past it has been going on that the Saudi Coalition has been hitting, especially the, what do you call, targets in hospitals and clinics and so forth where children are being killed.  And the Secretary‑General has condemned it, but the thing is, why did the Secretary‑General's Special Representative suspend the talks indefinitely?  And then now, was it to allow the Saudis to do this what they have been doing?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I will refer you back to the statement released a little over a week ago by Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, where he described the state of play.  He explained the proposals that had been agreed to between the parties and then the need for the… each of the parties to go back to their respective sides to see how they could advance those proposals.  We are still trying to get a final agreement, and he remains in touch with the parties.  And of course, while they are having this period of time, the cessation of hostilities needs to be upheld, and he's been very clear on that.

Question:  But this, I mean, the Saudi Coalition is taking advantage of the suspension of talks and so forth.  I mean, at least it looks… seems as though… I mean, they really don't need that so‑called advantage.  They can do anything they want.  But, at this point in time, the Secretary‑General, he did place them on the watch list.  Can they put them back on watch list?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as I've mentioned yesterday, the… that list is still under review, and you'll have seen from the statement we issued today and the one we issued yesterday that our concerns about such activities, including airstrikes, the targeting of medical facilities, and the high number of civilian casualties, including casualties of children, still apply.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I wonder whether the Secretary‑General has any response to a letter from the Polisario Front accusing Morocco of violating the ceasefire in an area of Western Sahara near the Mauritanian border.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, on that, what I can say is that the UN Mission in Western Sahara, MINURSO, has seen reports of alleged violations in the southwestern part of Western Sahara near Mauritania.  The Mission is liaising with both parties in order to ascertain the facts and will deploy its capabilities, if it is so required, as per its mandate.  Yes, in the back?

Question:  Hi.  I’m Danielle Ziri from The Jerusalem Post.  Just wanted to ask you about Israel.  It announced today that they had uncovered a Hizbullah cell that was operating within their territory, planning attacks.  The Israeli ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, did issue a statement this morning asking the UN to designate Hizbullah as a terror organization.  Do you have any response to that… to that?  And also, why has it not been done so far, since a lot of countries have designated it as a terror organization?  Why does the UN not…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the designation ultimately of terrorist organizations would come through… one way or another, through bodies of Member States.  In this case, most of the countries designated on the list of terrorist entities, what's known as the consolidated list, were placed there by the members of the Security Council.  So, this is really a question for the members of the Security Council if they were… are going to take this action.  So, I would refer you over to them.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I have a follow‑up on your Jean Todt answer, such as it was, but I wanted to ask first about Burundi.  First, there… it's widely reported that the Burundian Government has closed the border with Rwanda and stopped all trade between the two.  So, I wanted to know if there's a… any response by the UN and its Special Adviser.  And also, what's been done since the… since in mid‑July the Security Council passed the resolution to deploy 220 police, what exactly has DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] and the Secretariat done to implement or begin implementing that resolution?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we are in touch with potential police-contributing countries, and what we're trying to do is see whether we can construct a police presence in accordance with the mandate provided by the Security Council.

Question:  Has the Secretariat communicated with the Pierre Nkurunziza Government?  Because they've said publicly that they're not going to take the police.

Deputy Spokesman:  We are in touch with the Nkurunziza Government, including through the Special Adviser.

Question:  And what about the trade?  What about the cutoff of trade?  Is the UN taking note of that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I am aware of the media reports.  I'm not aware of any particular reaction we have.  As you know, for most of these sorts of matters, we encourage countries to deal with any differences with each other through bilateral means.  If there's anything more to say, I'll let you know.

Question:  Sure.  I'm only asking because isn't there also a guy working on Great Lakes?  It seems to be the problem in Burundi is becoming a regional issue, so I'm wondering whether the UN sees it as such.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I haven't seen any comment from that particular Adviser on this, just so far.  Yes?

Question:  According to some media reports originating apparently from Moscow, the Russians are said to be in contact with the Americans to try and arrange some humanitarian joint operation.  So, the question:  is Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura aware of this development, and what is his comments, if any?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, I'd refer you back to what Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, told the press in Geneva at the end of last week.  Last Thursday, he spoke to the press.  He has been in touch with representatives from the Russian Federation and from the United States, and they've been working to see what sort of cessation of hostilities [or pause] could be brought into effect.  And he laid out what our basic minimum conditions are for an effective cessation of hostilities in that area, in terms of something that would allow for a pause, potentially of 48 hours or more, to allow aid to go in and out of Aleppo.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Yeah.  Israel continues to build illegal settlements in the occupied territory, and the Secretary‑General and everybody else has been issuing statement, to no avail.  Does the Secretary‑General intend to talk to [Benjamin] Netanyahu soon to… at least to prevail upon him to stop the illegal settlement activities, which he has yet so far denied?

Deputy Spokesman:  You're well aware of the conversations that the Secretary‑General has had with the Israeli Prime Minister on this issue and what our position on settlements is.  If there are any further phone calls to make, I'll let you know.  But as you're aware, a great number of world leaders will come to the United Nations next month for the General Assembly, and he expects to be able to talk to them at that point, and we'll have many, many readouts of his meetings available at that point.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  First, I just wanted to see if you have a statement on this.  In Guatemala, a highly respected human rights lawyer, Ramon Cardena, had his house ransacked by armed groups and after he… after his human rights advocacy, and this is seen as a pattern.  Given the CICIG [International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala] and things the Secretary‑General has said about it, has he noticed this?  What does he think about the attacks on human rights defenders in Guatemala?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we've raised our concerns about this in the past, but any attacks on human rights defenders anywhere is a cause for concern.  Our human rights mechanisms in Geneva, as you know, are seized of all of these particular incidents, and we'll leave it to them to make any reaction.

Question:  Sure.  And I wanted to ask on what you read about the… yellow fever, it seems like beyond this… this spreading to urban areas, there seems to be a… a… Save the Children has said there's a big lack of vaccine, and it turns out that UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] or others have been aware of this lack since 2013.  Is… how much of this problem is… is because it's in urban areas, and how much of it is because it's… there's a lack of vaccine, and what steps has the UN health system taken to address this since 2013?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I told you what I've said about the basic problems as the World Health Organization defines it, and I'd refer you to them for more.  But, they have pointed out the problems in terms of dealing with the scale of this spread and their preparations to deal with it.  There's more information in Geneva if you need.  Yes, Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  When is the report of the Secretary‑General on the work of the Organization going to come out?

Deputy Spokesman:  Normally, those come out in September, and I would expect it by then.  It tends to be finalized over these weeks in August.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you again about the Terrain Apartments.  I went back and looked not only at what Ms. [Ellen] Løj said, but the day after that, Stéphane [Dujarric], on 14 July, when asked about what she said, said that the UN was already at that time investigating its own role.  So, I wanted to know, in the intervening month, what has the UN found out?  Like, yesterday, it was said sort of like the UN, based on the AP report, is going to be looking into it.  In the month since 14 July and now, [16 August], what did the UN find out about its role? 

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said, we are investigating this.  That investigation has not concluded.  We may have more to say on this in the next day or so in terms of what will be done in terms of any further investigation, but at this stage, the point is it's ongoing.

Question:  But, when did the investigation start, I guess, having now looked at what was said on 14 July?  Did it start then or did it not start until now?

Deputy Spokesman:  It started very rapidly upon the first awareness of this incident, which, as you're aware, we reported to you at the time.

Correspondent:  And… it's up to you?

Deputy Spokesman:  Is there anything?  No.  Then… then… you keep looking like you're going to ask something, but then you're not.  Yes, yes, you.

Correspondent:  I was going to ask you a question, but I was listening to him.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Then you, then him.  Yes.  Okay.  If you… if he cedes, he cedes.  Okay?

Question:  I wanted to ask you about this Jean Todt thing, because yesterday, what I was asking about was not just a possible financial conflict of interest, but the idea of sort of a thematic conflict of interest, in the sense that the company he's on the board of, publicly listed, owns bars, and he's the Special Envoy for Road Safety.  So, I wanted to know, is it within the Ethics Office mandate to look at this type of thematic contradiction, or are they simply looking for possible either… either conflict of interest in contracting with the UN?  Do they look at speeches given by envoys, where companies that they're with can make money?  How… I just… I want to know what kind of restrictions they're imposing.

Deputy Spokesman:  I brought what you'd said to their attention, and this is their reply.  Yes?

Correspondent:  Yes.  Farhan, the question I've been straining to ask you, but let's hope that you can say something.  It's about India and Pakistan at this… India's Prime Minister yesterday said that he has heard something about the… he's being welcomed by the Kashmiris and so forth, but the… in Kashmir, the situation continues to deteriorate.  And the reason why I'm reluctant to ask you about this question because the answer has been the same, that the Secretary‑General gave a statement about two months ago, and that still stands.

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe it was last month, but yes, the sentiments of that note to correspondents still apply today.

Question:  Okay.  So, so far, there's been no revision or updating of that?

Deputy Spokesman:  There's nothing further to say.  If we have any further update, I'll certainly let you know.  Yeah?

Question:  Sure, I want to ask you… and I want to try to, I guess, do it in a generic way, about the staffing of the PGA's [President of the General Assembly] office.  When a PGA comes in and brings in his own… his or her own people to… and makes them UN staff for the year, does this make them UN staff, i.e., they're in the system and then get promoted from there?  And I'm asking because at least in… in… about a particular case of a John Ashe personal assistant who came in and then became the assistant to Ms. Catherine Pollard, who is now working in the Executive Office of the Secretary‑General.  And the question is, is this a sort of a backdoor way in?  What is the status… does… does… and I ask it because also Mr. [Mogens] Lykketoft has brought in a speechwriter.  This is a question that arose in this room.  Is the expectation when somebody becomes a UN staff member for the year of a PGA service that at the end of the year they're back just like any other person trying to enter the UN system, or have they effectively entered the UN system simply by being tapped by the PGA?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  I mean, they can apply for UN jobs after they've finished their time.  And some of them, as you noticed, have applied for UN jobs.  But, they can go back to national service or UN jobs.  It goes either way.

Question:  But, they're not… they don't have a leg up on people that are not already in the UN system or do they?

Deputy Spokesman:  I wouldn't call it a leg up.  They have experience in the system.  That is something in itself.  But, beyond that, they're not part of the system inherently.

Question:  Given the John Ashe case, can you say, maybe not now, but at some point later today or, I guess, tomorrow from the podium, how many staff members brought in by John Ashe, given that, may he rest in peace, he was charged with bribery at the UN, now currently work in the UN system?

Deputy Spokesman:  I wouldn't be aware of that, depending upon where they had gone.  I mean, obviously, some of them may be in the system.  Some have gone back to national service.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.