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

19 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, everybody.


I have the following statement, attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary‑General, on Haiti:  The Secretary‑General notes yesterday's decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which upheld the immunity of the Organization from legal proceedings in the case of Georges et al v. United Nations et. al, in accordance with the UN Charter and other international treaties.  The Secretary‑General deeply regrets the terrible suffering the people of Haiti have endured as a result of the cholera epidemic.  The United Nations has a moral responsibility to the victims of the cholera epidemic and for supporting Haiti in overcoming the epidemic and building sound water, sanitation and health systems.

Sustained efforts by national authorities and the international community have contributed to a 90 per cent reduction in the number of cases since the peak in 2011.  However, eliminating cholera from Haiti will take the full commitment of the Haitian Government and the international community, and crucially, the resources to fulfill our shared duty.  The Secretary‑General is actively working to develop a package that would provide material assistance and support to those Haitians most directly affected by cholera.  These efforts must include, as a central focus, the victims of the disease and their families.  The United Nations also intends to intensify its support to reduce, and ultimately end, the transmission of cholera, improve access to care and treatment and address the longer‑term issues of water, sanitation and health systems in Haiti.

Despite repeated appeals, these efforts have been seriously underfunded, and severe and persistent funding shortfalls remain.  The Secretary‑General urges Member States to demonstrate their solidarity with the people of Haiti by increasing their contributions to eliminate cholera and provide assistance to those affected.  For decades, the United Nations has stood by the Haitian people, supporting them in their quest for democracy and the strengthening of their institutions and helping to rebuild the nation after the tragic earthquake of 2010.  The Secretary‑General and the United Nations as a whole are determined to continue this support, honour the people of Haiti and help them usher in a more peaceful and prosperous future.

**World Humanitarian Day

In the Secretary‑General’s message today to mark World Humanitarian Day, he says a record 130 million people are dependent on humanitarian assistance to survive.  He said that although the figure is truly staggering, it tells only a fraction of the story.  People no different to you and me, he said.  Children, women and men face impossible choices every day.  They are parents who must choose between buying food or medicine for their children; families who must risk bombing at home or a perilous escape by sea.  He urged everyone to sign on to the United Nations “World You’d Rather” campaign, which raises awareness, and collects money for humanitarian relief.

Jan Eliasson, the Deputy Secretary‑General, also spoke on the day.  In ceremonies marking the thirteenth Anniversary of the bombing in Iraq that took 22 UN lives, Mr. Eliasson said that for UN personnel having lost our colleagues, not only in Iraq, but all over the world before and since then — the most important thing for us to do is to work in an even more determined way, and never lose faith in the role of the UN.  Mr. Eliasson will deliver an address on World Humanitarian Day later this afternoon in the General Assembly.  And you can find the full text on our website.


As we told you yesterday, Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, has received a communication from the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, stating its readiness to support his proposal for a 48‑hour humanitarian pause in Aleppo.  The Special Envoy welcomed the Russian Federation’s statement, and the United Nations humanitarian team is now set to mobilize itself to respond to this challenge, as stated recently by Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien.  The plan is to collectively work out the operational details and be ready for delivery as soon as possible.

The United Nations counts on the Russian Federation to deliver their part, regarding, in particular, the adherence of the Syrian armed forces to the pause, once it comes into effect.  The United Nations further counts on all those with access to or influence on the armed opposition, in particular the United States, as co‑chair of the International Syria Support Group, as well as other relevant Support Group members, to ensure that the armed opposition also respects the 48‑hour humanitarian pause.


A UN report on Da’esh in Iraq documents systematic and wide-spread killings, sexual violence and sexual slavery, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, forced conversions and forced displacement.  The report, compiled by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), is based on testimony of the victims themselves, particularly among the Yezidis.  It documents Da’esh activities since the attack on Sinjar in August 2014.  Women interviewed by the UN spoke of being sold multiple times and having their young children and babies snatched from them.  It said that up to 600 men were reportedly killed in Tel Afar District.  The full report is on the UN rights agency’s website.


The UN refugee agency reported today that military advances by Government forces and the Multi‑National Joint Task Force against Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria have exposed a shocking level of suffering among the people there.  The agency said that there are numerous reports of human rights violations, including deaths, sexual violence, disappearances, forced recruitment, forced religious conversions and attacks on civilian sites.  Some 800,000 additional internally displaced people have been identified as needing help.  Severe malnutrition on a wide scale is being reported, and the needs are growing with each day.

UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] is responding by scaling up its operations.  The immediate focus is the needs of some 488,000 highly vulnerable people in critical condition concentrated in 10 newly liberated local government areas in Borno State.  The agency said that with the military campaign still in progress, the situation is shifting and remains dangerous and volatile.  Details are available on the agency’s website.


From Geneva, our Human Rights colleagues say today that they welcome the decision by Ethiopian authorities to launch an independent investigation into allegations of human rights violations since the unrest began in Oromia region in November 2015.  They urge the Government to ensure that this investigation is indeed independent, transparent, thorough and effective, with a view to establishing whether the use of excessive force occurred and with a view to bringing to justice the perpetrators of any human rights violations.

They also reiterate their request for access to the affected areas, as the situation on the ground makes it very challenging for independent civil society actors to operate, particularly given the tense situation in parts of the Oromia and Amhara regions.  A large security presence has reportedly been deployed in these regions, and there are reports of ongoing arbitrary arrests, intimidation and harassment.


Still from our human rights colleagues, they express their concern about the continued, mounting constraints on the democratic space in Thailand, and call for a prompt return to civilian rule.  Following the military coup in May 2014, severe restrictions on freedom of expression and opinion and assembly have been in place through the use of criminal and military laws and orders.

The High Commissioner’s Office urges Thailand to immediately drop all charges against political activists and human rights defenders, and to release those jailed for voicing dissent on the draft charter in the run‑up to the Constitutional referendum.  It also calls on the authorities to suspend the use of military courts and military orders in cases involving civilians.  These measures are now urgently needed as Thailand moves towards an election in 2017 aimed at restoring democracy, as proposed in the military Government's road map.

**South Sudan

More than 650 children have been recruited into armed groups in South Sudan since the beginning of this year, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today.  Fearful that renewed conflict could put tens of thousands of children at ever-greater risk, UNICEF calls for an immediate end to recruitment and the unconditional release of all children by armed groups.  An estimated 16,000 children have been recruited by armed groups and armed forces since the crisis in South Sudan first began in December 2013.  UNICEF said children continue to be recruited and used by armed groups and forces despite widespread political commitment to end the practice.

At this precarious stage in South Sudan’s short history, UNICEF fears that a further spike in child recruitment could be imminent.  And our colleagues from the World Food Programme also report that South Sudan is facing a humanitarian crisis, particularly acute in some northern regions.  Close to 5 million people — more than a third of the population — are estimated to be suffering emergency levels of food insecurity.  Malnutrition is above emergency levels in 7 of 10 states, and nearly twice the emergency threshold in two of them.  WFP is doing everything possible to provide life‑saving food and nutrition support to those most in need.


I was asked about the attendance of any UN officials attending the recent talks among the Sudanese parties.  I can say that the Deputy Joint Special Representative (Political) of the UN‑African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), Kingsley Mamabolo, and UN Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Nicholas Haysom, convened negotiations on the cessation of hostilities in the Two Areas (Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile States) and in Darfur from 9 to 14 August.

Mr. Mamabolo and Mr. Haysom will continue to engage with key stakeholders in the coming weeks in order to resume negotiations and to help the parties achieve a negotiated settlement.  We continue to emphasize to the parties that the imperative is to reach people in need regardless of progress on the political process, but that the Roadmap is certainly an important enabler in this regard, just as much as collaboration on meeting the humanitarian needs would also help build confidence between the parties in the peace process.

**Personal Announcement

And you may have noticed that our colleague Jamille hasn’t been at her desk the last few days.  That’s because she is now a mother. Jamille gave birth to a baby girl last night.  So, on behalf of the Spokesperson’s Office, I’d like to welcome Aurielle Isabella Romero to the world, as we send our best wishes to Jamille and all her family.  That is it for me.  Yes, Michelle?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  First of all, on behalf of the UN Correspondents’ Association, congratulations to Jamille and her family.  On Haiti, can you elaborate on what this package of material assistance might be for the victims and their families?  Are we talking money or what?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I think… I had mentioned yesterday that this is something that's still being elaborated, and we'll have to wait for a more formal presentation to be made.  But, it's being worked on right now at the most senior levels of the UN.  I would draw your attention to the fact, as I just pointed out, that eliminating Cholera from Haiti will take the whole commitment of the international community and, crucially, the resources to fulfil our fair duty.  So, what we do need is more resources both to help combat this outbreak but also to deal with the needs of those most directly affected.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  Yeah.  Could you tell us whether Mr. Machar had asked for asylum when he came into the custody of the UN peacekeeping force, and if you do not know, could you… could you find out?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not aware of any requests, but, in any case, as I pointed out yesterday, he was only briefly in the hands of the United Nations.  We then put him in the hands of the authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Question:  Well then, I want to ask a follow-up.  Under what legal authority did the UN decide to just simply turn over Mr. Machar to the Congolese authorities given the fact… and this is not to excuse President Kiir whose record of atrocities stands on its own… but Mr. Machar has also been accused of war crimes, atrocities against civilians.  The UN has often called for accountability, and there have been calls for a hybrid international court to even look into these atrocities by both Mr. Kiir and Mr. Machar.  So, under what… what was the basis… I know you said it was humanitarian without defining what that meant.  But, what was… what went into the decision to simply turn Mr. Machar over to the DRC authorities and said that he may then go on to Ethiopia which has reportedly been sympathetic to his cause?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I… I'd like to point out that the legal authority in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and it was upon their request that we acted.  Yes, Sherwin.

Question:  The problem is that we don’t know whether he sought asylum and so therefore, the question is why simply when Mr. Machar was in custody of the UN simply just turn him over.  Were other options considered given his alleged record of war crimes and crimes against humanity?

Deputy Spokesman:  First of all, the leaders have not been charged with crimes.  There's not a court set up at this point dealing with that.  We have been dealing with them in the context of the peace process for South Sudan.  But, like I said, the legal authority in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] is the DRC Government.  Yes?

Question:  Just on that:  the DRC Government is disputing that they have Mr. Machar in their charge.  Can you clarify who he was handed over to specifically?  Because the Government spokesperson is saying they don't have him.

Deputy Spokesman:  As I said… as I said yesterday and it continues to be the case today:  yesterday he was handed over to the DRC authorities.

Question:  Do you understand why Mr. Machar crossed over the border into the DRC?  Is there any UN clarity on why?  Because, you see, the spokesperson has said there was a bungled assassination attempt.  And in your statement to us yesterday, you called on Mr. Machar to resume the implementation of the peace agreement, which seems a strange statement to make if he was fleeing the other party to that agreement who they say was trying to… were trying to assassinate him.

Deputy Spokesman:  Since I don't actually speak for Riek Machar or the SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] in Opposition, I can't speak to the reasons why he took the actions he did.  For our perspective, it's important that all parties abide by the peace agreement.  What that, among other things, means is that they need to avoid taking unilateral actions with regard to each other.  But, certainly, it also means that they need to uphold the commitments under the peace agreement.  There can only be a peaceful way forward for the leaders, for their factions, and for the communities; and we want to have a united South Sudan, a country that has not known that much peace in its brief existence so far.

Question:  Is UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] aware of an assassination attempt against Mr. Machar's life by factions loyal to the Kiir Government?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, I'm not aware that UNMISS had any involvement in what I was relating to yesterday.  This was an operation that was conducted by the UN [Organization Stabilization] Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO.

Correspondent:  There is a mission in South Sudan and the assassination attempt was allegedly made in South Sudan.

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not aware of any such information.  Yes?

Correspondent:  Great. Same topic.  There's a story in the Star of Kenya that said that the Secretary‑General personally approved this exfiltration in a call on 16 August.  I'd like you to confirm or deny it.

Deputy Spokesman:  I would do neither.  What I will say is that we had a request in from the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and we did comply with that.  And, of course, as you're aware, the UN performed it, which means, of course, that the officials here at headquarters were informed and went along with that.

Question:  Right.  The story says that Machar, believing that there's a contract on him by mercenaries hired by Kiir, called MONUSCO, and MONUSCO contacted the Secretary‑General.  Doesn't describe any… maybe MONUSCO called.  Then who originated the request?  Was it MONUSCO having been contacted by Machar or the Government of the DRC?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as I explained yesterday, we were responding to a request by the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Question:  Okay.  And I wanted to see… if you don't mind, I wanted to ask one thing about Haiti.  You made this reference in what you read to victims and their families.  And I just wanted to know, does this encompass victims including, obviously, people that were killed over the years since it was introduced.  Is there any… I understand you're saying it's a detail, but it seems like it's a pretty key point.  Is there any… is there any consideration, is there going to be any, whether you call it reparations or something else, for the people who have actually had a family member killed by the disease?  Does this… does this fall within the definition of victims and their families that you're using?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you have heard the words I said.  I don't have any interpretation to offer beyond that.  Like I said, the sort of package that we're working on is being elaborated right now.  Yes, you had your hand up?  No?  Just playing with your hair?  Okay.  All right then.  You again?

Question:  Sorry, I will try to do this fast.  I wanted to ask you… I'd asked you previously about the proposal made by the Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed in Kuwait.  And I have now seen a UN translation of it and published it.  It seems to initially, basically call on the Houthis to turn — and the Saleh side — to turn in all weapons and leave cities before any talks took place.  So, people that have seen it and have seen it prior to my obtaining it say that this was a totally unrealistic proposal, that there's no way a party in charge… in control of the capital of a country would agree to that.  So, I wanted to know:  Is there any… what's the… one, is that what he proposed?  And, two, what was he thinking if that's… if that's what he proposed, and is he going to come up with another proposal that's more in line with proposals that mediators have made in a situation where a group controls the capital and another group is trying to get back to the capital?

Deputy Spokesman:  No. I have no comment on the proposals that he's been making which are elaborated on in discussion with each of the parties.  The basic point is that he works with the two parties… well, actually the several parties — that is to say, Ansar Allah, the General National Congress, and the Government of Yemen.  And he has been getting ideas from them and is working to elaborate.  I wouldn't comment on the specific nature of the discussions, but the point is to forge agreement among the parties on this.

Question:  And on Burundi, I wanted to ask you, there's now a call… there was obviously Jean Bigirimana.  There's another journalist, Gisa Steve Irakoze, of a radio station, one of the few independent radio stations in the country, has been abducted, the word RSF uses, by the National Security Agency.  And I wanted to know… it's kind of a pressing case… is the team on the ground, rather than just a later report, are they in any way involved in trying to ask the Government to release this journalist who's also diabetic and hasn't eaten in two days by some accounts?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we're aware of the latest reports, and we are concerned about any efforts that would harm the right of Burundians to the freedom of expression and any crackdowns on the media.  So, of course, we hope that this will be resolved and that the person will be found and found safely soon.

Question:  And one… I just… yesterday you'd said… I'd asked you about this difference… this difference that took place in the public financial disclosure of the UN officials where in 2013 they're listed even if they choose to maintain confidentiality.  And now, I guess, there's just some that are not listed.  I give, Mr. Ladsous.  But, I wanted to know… you said, well, you know who the officials are so you'll know who is maintaining confidentiality.  So, I wanted… I actually am not positive on that.  I wanted to know, for example, Mr. Han Seung-soo is not listed in 2015.  Is he somebody that was expected… to fill out a form saying I maintain confidentiality or not?  Same question on…

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly I can confirm that he continues to be an official of the UN on an actually employed contract.

Question:  Okay.  And also Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed's name is not on it.  Does this mean that he chose to maintain confidentiality?

Deputy Spokesman:  Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed also continues to be an official of the United Nations.

Correspondent:  Okay.  So, I asked you because there's a guy called Fowler.  You remember, there was a guy who was found… I think you will remember this.  There was a man who was abducted in Niger who, once he was abducted, turned out to be a confidential Under‑Secretary‑General of the UN as it revealed.  This was a Canadian individual.  He was ultimately released.  He's written a book about it.  He was a secret official of the UN.

Deputy Spokesman:  He was not a secret official of the UN.  Robert Fowler, that’s a separate case, he had been appointed by the Department for Political Affairs.  Yes?

Question:  Just on Riek Machar again.  Is the UN making any effort to try and find out where he is and what's happening with him?

Deputy Spokesman:  Your guess is as good as mine.  Have a great week.

For information media. Not an official record.