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

26 May 2017

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.

**Kosovo

I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary‑General on the Human Rights Advisory Panel’s recommendations on Kosovo.  The Secretary‑General would like to reiterate his appreciation for the valuable work of the Human Rights Advisory Panel, which examined alleged violations of human rights by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

The Panel was a unique human rights mechanism established in the context of a United Nations peacekeeping mission that had an executive mandate in a post‑conflict environment.  It became operational in November 2007, receiving and reviewing over 500 complaints.  In a number of cases, the Panel concluded that there had been failures to uphold human rights standards.  The Panel completed its work and subsequently provided a Final Report in July 2016.

Successive UNMIK Special Representatives of the Secretary‑General have issued decisions in response to Human Rights Advisory Panel’s findings and recommendations and have expressed deep regret for the suffering endured by the individuals identified by the Panel.  The Panel’s work has also received attention in the Secretary‑General’s regular reporting on UNMIK to the Security Council.

Among the cases reviewed by the Panel was a complaint submitted by 138 individuals from the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities that they suffered lead poisoning and other serious health consequences as a result of their relocation to internally‑displaced persons (IDP) camps in northern Kosovo.  The Secretary‑General is keenly aware of the particular plight of those individuals, as well as the other members of these most vulnerable communities who also lived in the IDP camps.  The Secretary‑General wishes to express the Organization’s profound regret for the suffering endured by all individuals living in the IDP camps.

In view of the unique circumstances in Kosovo, the Secretary‑General has decided, as an exceptional measure, to establish a Trust Fund.  The Trust Fund will implement community based assistance projects, primarily in North Mitrovica, South Mitrovica and Leposavic, which will benefit more broadly the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities.  The assistance projects will focus on the most pressing needs of those most vulnerable communities, including with respect to health services, economic development and infrastructure.

The Secretary‑General believes that it is our shared duty to support the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities in Kosovo, and ensure that they receive the assistance that they need.  In this connection, the Organization will make every effort, in consultation with Member States, to mobilize the necessary resources in support of the Trust Fund.  The Secretary‑General calls upon the international community to support this initiative through the provision of resources to the Trust Fund.  The Organization will also continue to draw lessons from its experience in Kosovo and from the work of the Panel, and take action to prevent such situations from happening again.

**Middle East

Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said that during the past month, the complex dynamics on the ground in the region are creating an explosive environment.  In Gaza, he warned, we are walking into another crisis with our eyes wide open.  Since April, the majority of Palestinians in Gaza are receiving about four hours of electricity per day.

For months, Mr. Mladenov said, the UN has warned that without addressing the structural problems of Gaza's electricity supply, we would face a humanitarian crisis.  Those warnings are now a reality.  He added that the UN is working to mitigate the humanitarian impact of this crisis.  A UN‑managed emergency fuel operation is delivering fuel to essential services for water, health and sanitation — but reserves will run out in the coming weeks.

The Special Coordinator is also very concerned by the ongoing hunger strike by Palestinian detainees protesting against their conditions in Israeli jails, which, on the eve of Ramadan, has now entered its 40th day.  Mr. Mladenov noted that his briefing follows on the heels of the terrorist attacks in the Sinai and in Manchester.  He offered his deep condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims and to the Egyptian and UK Governments and people.  There is no justification for terror.  The Security Council members also held a moment of silence in honour of the victims of the Sinai attack.  And they have since released a press statement.

**Syria

The High Commissioner for Human Rights warned today that civilians in Syria are increasingly paying the price as airstrikes against Da’esh escalate while that group cracks down on those in and around areas remaining under its control. High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al‑Hussein urged all States’ air forces operating in Syria to take much greater care to distinguish between legitimate military targets and civilians.  He said that all parties to the conflict must uphold their obligation to take every feasible measure to spare the civilian population from the effects of the armed conflict.

The High Commissioner said that the same civilians who are suffering indiscriminate shelling and summary executions by Da’esh are also falling victim to the escalating airstrikes, particularly in the north‑eastern governorates of Raqqa and Deir Ezzour.  There are more details in a press release online.

**Iraq

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that aid agencies are preparing for a potentially imminent mass exodus of civilians from Mosul’s Old City area in Iraq.  Since last night, Government has been asking civilians to leave the area and seek safety across government lines.  Mosul's Old City and some adjacent neighbourhoods remain under the control of Da’esh, and humanitarian agencies are deeply concerned for the safety of some 200,000 civilians thought to still be living in the area.

**Yemen

The Coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, today expressed his concern over reports of continued fighting in Taizz.  He said the escalation of violence over the last four days has resulted in deaths and injuries.  Mr. McGoldrick said that innocent civilians trying to go about their daily lives have been swept up in the violence and indiscriminate shelling that is all to frequent in Taizz city and its surroundings.  Some 70 per cent of the war‑wounded are women and children.  He calls on all parties to the conflict to uphold their duties under international humanitarian law and to protect civilians, as well as to facilitate access to medical facilities for all the sick and wounded and to allow humanitarian and medical supplies into all areas.

**Libya

The Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for Libya, Martin Kobler, said today that he is gravely concerned about reports of ongoing fighting in Tripoli.  He called on rival groups to stop fighting immediately and to put Libyan national interest first.  Mr. Kobler reiterated that political aims must not be pursued through violence.  He stressed the need to protect civilians and reminded all parties of their duty to respect the provisions of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.  He also urged all parties to engage seriously in the political process and towards national reconciliation.

**Central African Republic

Our colleagues from the UN Mission in the Central African Republic report improvement in the security situation in Bria, in Haute‑Kotto prefecture, with the resumption of economic activity.  Yesterday, the Mission launched a one‑week operation in Bria town to stop the flow of weapons, protect civilians and allow the return of internally displaced persons.  Meanwhile, peacekeepers continue to patrol the town.

At the political level, the Mission is engaging armed group leaders and working with the community to promote reconciliation.  And our humanitarian colleagues tell us that an estimated 100,000 people have been displaced in May in the country.  This includes 38,500 who fled the recent violence in Bria and 3,000 who were already displaced there.  An estimated 19,000 people have fled over the border to the DRC.

**Indonesia

The UN Human Rights Office today said that it is concerned by the recent prosecution, arbitrary arrest, detention and ill‑treatment of men perceived to be gay in Indonesia.  The Office said that in the past two months, more than 150 men were reportedly arrested in Aceh, Surabaya and Jakarta on the basis of alleged consensual relations between adults of the same sex.  The men arrested have been subjected to public humiliation and stigmatization, with their names and photos released to the media in some cases. You can read more about this on the website of the UN Human Rights Office.

**Tilapia Fish

The Food and Agriculture Organization issued an alert today over a lethal virus affecting tilapia fish, one of the world's most important fish for human consumption.  Tilapia Lake Virus has now been confirmed in five countries on three continents:  Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Israel and Thailand.  While the pathogen poses no risk to human health, and no public health concern, it can decimate infected populations.  More details on the FAO website.

**International Organization for Migration

We have an  from the UN migration agency, IOM, showing that 60,521 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea this year, with over 80 per cent arriving in Italy and the remainder divided between Greece, Cyprus and Spain.  This number does not include some 6,000 people who have been rescued over the past 72 hours, the IOM said.  In terms of fatalities, there have been 1,530 migrants and refugees who have died this year on this route, a figure that roughly matches those for 2016 for the same period.  However, the IOM warned that the deadliest season is starting right now.

**South Sudan

This just in: The UN Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, has just welcomed the release of George Livio, its national staff member who has been in detention since August 2014 without trial.  The Mission calls for the release of its two other national staff members who are currently also being held in detention without trial since 2014.  UNMISS continues to urge the South Sudanese authorities to respect national laws and the fundamental principles of due process under international human rights law.

**Secretary-General Travels

Last, the Secretary‑General has arrived in Sicily.  He will speak at the outreach session of the G-7 [Group of Seven] Summit tomorrow before returning to New York later this weekend.  I’d also like to remind you that on Monday, 29 May, UN Headquarters will be closed for a US holiday.  The office will re‑open and briefings will resume on Tuesday, 30 May.  And before we go to the weekend, yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, just before you came, the representative of DPRK… ambassador, was giving, gave a long press conference, a sort of press conference.  Basically, it was a lecture.  I mean, he has charged that the, I mean, which you probably know that he's been doing that, that United Nations has not listened to anything that they're saying.  For instance, formation of a tribunal, or what have you, to determine the legalities of the sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council.  And it wants an international, totally independent, that's one of the demands, and it charges that United Nations only listens to what the United States has to say.  So, how do you respond to that?  And do you think that's a workable thing that they're suggesting?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding your first question about their proposal, we have received a letter from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea concerning this proposal, and we are continuing to engage with the DPRK authorities.  That's as much as we can say on that for the time being.  Of course, I do not agree with the idea that the United Nations listens only to one or some of its Member States.  The United Nations is a venue where we try to listen and embody the views of all 193 Member States as best as we can.  It's obvious that Member States, some Member States, have differences with other Member States.  What we try to do is bring them together.  In this case, we have continued to urge dialogue concerning the situation on the Korean Peninsula.  We want the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to comply with the relevant Security Council resolutions, to work with the international community, including with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and we are hoping for resumption of the sort of dialogue that we've seen concerning the Korean Peninsula some years back.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Yeah, I just, I guess the question… I mean, you may view all countries the same, but have you written back to this letter?  And I know I've asked about this letter as far as back as March, and Stéphane never even confirmed receiving it.  So what's the protocol for the Secretariat to respond to formal letters by missions of countries?

Deputy Spokesman:  Obviously depends on the nature of what's in the letter.  We are continuing to engage with the DPRK on this.

Question:  And can I also ask you, since, since I last asked, the US Mission has put out a second, more‑detailed statement about the World Intellectual Property Organization's (WIPO) work on the sodium cyanide patent for either a North Korean individual or the Government.  They seem to insist that there was no need for them to inform the Sanctions Committee that everything is fine with that.  And I wanted to know, what does the Secretary‑General think, given his calls and his own statements that all Member States take this very seriously both, implementing… does he think that WIPO has met all of its obligations and that it should continue in the future to do patent work in North Korea on cyanide without informing the Committee?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you're aware, the World Intellectual Property Organization has, twice now, on its website, put explanations of its actions, and we would refer you to what they have said on this.  Of course, the Secretary‑General does want all Member States, and, indeed, all parts of the UN, to abide by Security Council resolutions, but you can see what the explanation is provided by WIPO itself.

Question:  But, what does he think of their explanation?  I guess that's my question.  He's the head of the UN System.  Does he think… obviously, there are some that think that the…   what they're saying is asinine, and they think that it's fine.  So, I'm asking what does he think of it?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're aware of what their explanation is, and we refer you back over to them.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, my follow up was, went the other way.  Do you think that their proposal to gather independent legal experts in Geneva, wherever, to determine that the sanctions being imposed by United Nations Security Council on North Korea are legal or not?  Do you think that's a workable thing, and do you think that the United Nations can follow up on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, as I just pointed out, all we have to say is we're aware of the question, and we're engaging with the DPRK authorities.  Yes?

Question:  Where does, where do things stand with the USG for counter-terrorism?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, the Secretary‑General proposed an office on counter-terrorism, and that proposal is before the General Assembly.  It's for them to act on this.  We expect that they may be considering this sometime next month, but no position has been created, and, therefore, there's nothing to name or announce at this point.

Question:  [Inaudible] agreement that this position would go to the Russians?

Deputy Spokesman:  Obviously, there are different rumours that we're aware of about this or that post.  Until we announce something, there's nothing official.  And in this stage, there's not even a post created to announce.  So, if different countries are wanting their interests reflected, it's about something that does not at present exist yet.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah.  I have just some other stuff, but I just wanted to ask you on this.  I saw a quote where Jeffrey Feltman said that the proposal for the new office has been, I guess, approved by the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions.  And since yesterday in this room, the idea was that's all confidential, I wanted to just know, first, is it true, did Mr. Feltman say that?  Is it true that ACABQ has signed off on it?  And if it's true that the UN can speak about ACABQ, can we get a copy of the Secretary‑General's speech to ACABQ given earlier this week?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  The, the speech was basically about the budget proposals which are available as a document, as Stéphane pointed out earlier this week.

Correspondent:  I, I searched it, and it said document not available on the UN document site.  I’d like the speech.

Deputy Spokesman:  You know, you can deal with my colleagues with the document, but there's no remarks to share for the public.  Regarding the particular proposal, there's a proposal that's going to go before the General Assembly, and you'll be able to see what happens once they consider it.

Question:  Right, but I guess it goes back to [inaudible] question.  In most Governments in the world, an executive like the Secretary‑General, the executive branch, will announce publicly what its proposals are.  Just the fact that to only announce it after it's been approved by the Member States doesn't seem to make sense if you're pronouncing reforms and if there's public interest in how the UN works.  What's the problem with releasing the speech?

Deputy Spokesman:  This is not a Government.  This is an organization bringing together Governments.  And what we try to do is engage in dialogue with governments in order to flesh out these proposals.  Ultimately, it's not finalized until the various governments agree on this.  You simply can't argue that something's not transparent if it goes to 193 Governments.  That's a lot of people.  It's not a secret process by any means.  All of them are involved in this discussion.

Question:  But, I've heard the Secretary‑General say he wants to open up the UN to civil society and the public and we the people, so I guess I'm just wondering, is there something in that ACABQ speech that's so confidential that it can't, as I took him to understand on the steps, just be released and made public?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  It's not confidential, but it's part of a dialogue with Member States.  And we try to engage the Member States directly in that dialogue.  That speech basically tracks with the language of a public report.  Yes.

Question:  Just on my question on the Russian candidates, are there other candidates being considered who are not Russian?

Deputy Spokesman:  Why would we consider candidates for a post that does not yet exist?  At some point, this will be relevant, but we're not at that point.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, now let me ask you on another question.  About this situation in India and Pakistan which is getting bad to worse now, there were attacks in the occupied Kashmir and so forth, do you think the Secretary‑General at any point in time will activate his good offices to somehow bring these two countries together?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, about the question of good offices, good offices are available to all parties if they mutually agree to this.  So, that's the case in this situation as in every other situation.  Yes?

Question:  [Inaudible] not willing to talk, but it wants it to be done bilaterally because it doesn't accept any arbitration unless it's in case that it took this case of the Indian President to ICJ.

Deputy Spokesman:  The very nature of the principle of good offices is that the parties themselves need to be willing to accept it.  Yes?

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesman:  You’ve changed a little.

Question:  The AP put out a story overnight of sexual abuse involving peacekeepers.  So, I have a couple of questions, you know, related to this story.  What does the UN say to the fact that Sri Lanka has failed to jail anybody for abuse that's essentially alleged, if you will, statutory rape?

Deputy Spokesman:  Hold on one second.  Well, I mean, we've… we've taken different actions with Sri Lanka, and we are trying to work with the Government in terms of having an enhanced screening process.  For any future deployment…

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesman:  As far as we're aware, that's the case, but you need to check with the Government of Sri Lanka what follow-up they've done.  But, from our standpoint, we need to have an enhanced screening process.  That's different from other screening processes that we have.  So, for any future deployment, the Government of Sri Lanka will have to share with the Secretariat the personal history information and military service records since 2005 for all personnel Sri Lanka intends to deploy in order for screening measures to be conducted by the United Nations under the Policy on Human Rights Screening of UN Personnel.  They'll need to certify in writing that it's not aware of any allegations against any unit member having been involved by act or omission in the commission of any acts that amount to violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law, and they need to establish an inclusive [inaudible] domestic screening process in line with international best practices and standards for the personnel it nominates to serve.  Beyond that, Sri Lanka would need to ensure that it provides predeployment training on UN standards and specifications, including conduct and discipline, on human rights and on sexual exploitation and abuse, and needs to ensure that their troops are equipped with appropriate monitoring and inspection capacity through the deployment of national investigative officers to prevent and promptly and effectively deal with any misconduct or violation committed by any of its members.

Question:  Just one quick other one.  An alleged war criminal was said to investigate these alleged rape cases in Haiti.  What do you say to that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Obviously, when it comes to investigations, we hope that all investigations are conducted in a credible manner.  If not, that would be a matter of concern.  Yes?

Question:  Sorry, looks like it's follow-up Friday.  I wanted to ask you, I've heard that at the Office of the [United Nations] High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), that they had an assigned staffer that was vetting Sri Lankans being deployed, for example, to Mali and other missions where they're being taken by the UN and that that person has recently been reassigned such that there is no staff member handling this.  I'm wondering, is the policy that you read out today, is this a response to the AP story?  How does it relate to actually reassigning the person who had been, until recently, in charge of vetting soldiers?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, no, this is not a response.  This is the policy that we've had in place because of the exceptional needs in terms of how we deal with peacekeeping contributions from Sri Lanka.  Obviously, there's a self‑certification process that’s standard for troops and police contributions by Member States.  And in that, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations works closely with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to tailor their approach and put in place mitigating measures as needed.  With Sri Lanka, the measures are as I've been spelling out just now.

Question:  So when they sent Shavendra Silva, a well-known military commander, this same country sent him as a senior adviser on peacekeeping, would it have passed this policy if they'd said that he didn't commit any crimes?

Deputy Spokesman:  Obviously, like I said, you know, any… the content of any policy, you know, of any review or investigation, needs to be done in a precise manner.  We are not the ones who nominated Mr. Silva.  You would have to ask the Government of Sri Lanka why they nominated him.

Question:  Okay.  I wanted to ask you about Yemen.  Yesterday, Stéphane said that the envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, had met with a representative of Ansar’Allah or the Houthis, and there's a statement by the Ansar’Allah spokesman, Mohammed Adbul‑Salam, that no such meeting occurred, that they refused to meet with them in part because of the non-payment of civil servants throughout the country and in part because they just think that he's on, one-sided.  But, can you confirm, I mean, did the envoy say to the Secretariat that he'd met with the Houthis?  And if so, at what level?  Who did he meet?  Because the spokesman for that party says that there was no meeting.

Deputy Spokesman:  I will just reiterate what we put out in our note to correspondents that there was such a meeting.  We can check with his team who that entailed.

Question:  And can… there was a, the staff unions in Geneva met and have passed a resolution earlier this week authorizing targeted strikes, you know, work stoppages, I mean, because of what they say is inaccurate procedures by the ICSC leading to what they say is 7.5 per cent pay cut.  So, what is the Secretariat's response to this now authorization of strikes by the staff unions in Geneva?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the UN Office in Geneva is taking very seriously the actions proposed by the unions against the possible pay cuts, and the UN Office in Geneva, is exploring in collaboration with UN Headquarters, the best way forward.

Question:  Do you have anything on Cameroon and Amnesty, the closing down of the Amnesty press conference about 10‑year jail sentences for students that I asked Stéphane about two days ago?

Deputy Spokesman:  What we can say is simply that we hope that the freedom of expression and freedom of assembly will be respected in Cameroon.  Have a good weekend, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.