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

2 May 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Vacation must be over!  Alright, I will start off with a statement on Syria.

**Syria

The Secretary-General is profoundly concerned about the dangerous escalation of fighting in and around Aleppo and the intolerable suffering, counted in mounting deaths and destruction, it is causing among civilians.  He calls upon the warring Syrian sides to recommit immediately to the cessation of hostilities and to uphold their responsibility to protect civilians from the effects of the conflict.  Noting the temporary re-launch of the cessation in Damascus and Lattakiya governorates, the Secretary-General stresses the need to expand these arrangements to other parts of Syria, with a special urgency for Aleppo.

The Secretary-General reiterates his call on all concerned regional and international actors, and in particular the co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group — the Russian Federation and the United States of America — to redouble their efforts in support of the Syrian parties to put the cessation of hostilities back on track.  The cessation of hostilities has alleviated the plight of some of the Syrian people, but it also constitutes a vital component of the overall process set up and sustained in Geneva by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), including the political transition process under the UN Special Envoy's leadership, Staffan de Mistura.  The collapse of the cessation of hostilities will only bring more violence, death and destruction while further weakening efforts to find a negotiated solution to this brutal war.  And that statement is now online.

And also obviously related to the work of the Special Envoy [Staffan de Mistura], as you would have seen, he met with the US Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva to talk about the issues raised in the statement.

Mr. de Mistura also met with the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, Ahmed Mohammed al-Jubeir, and underlined the importance of the members of the ISSG assisting with the re-implementation of the cessation of hostilities.

Mr. De Mistura is scheduled to travel to Moscow tonight where he will meet with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov.

And also on the humanitarian front on Saturday, an inter-agency humanitarian convoy delivered critical aid to 60,000 people in the besieged Syrian towns of Madaya and Zabadani and Foah and Kafraya, as part of the Four Towns Agreement.  The 70-truck convoy carried food, health items, vegetable seeds and other emergency supplies.

Today, an inter-agency humanitarian convoy is on its way to the hard-to-reach areas of Talbiseh in northern rural Homs — as a follow-up to the 27 April convoy — to deliver much needed food, health and other relief supplies to 60,000 people.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General will travel to Washington, D.C., this Wednesday evening.  On the following day, 5 May, he will speak at the opening session of the Climate Action 2016 — a multi-stakeholder summit that he will co-host with the World Bank and other partners.  On the margins of the summit, he will meet with the Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as well as other high-level officials participating in the summit.

The Secretary-General will then on Friday travel to Seychelles, Mauritius and Madagascar.

In Seychelles, where he will be over the weekend, he will meet with President [James Michel] and Foreign Minister [Joël Morgan] and he will address the National Assembly.  The Secretary-General will also visit the Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve, which is a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage site, known for its biodiversity.

On Sunday, 8 May, he will travel to Mauritius, where he will hold meetings with the President [Ameenah Gurib-Fakim] and the Prime Minister [Anerood Jugnauth].  During his stay in Mauritius, he will deliver the keynote address to the 2016 Conference of the International Council of Commercial Arbitration.  The Secretary-General will also take part in a special event on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and receive an honorary degree from the University of Mauritius.

He will also visit two UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites that are significant to the history of slavery and the slave trade in Mauritius and the region.

And on Tuesday, 10 May, the Secretary-General will go to Madagascar where he will meet with the President [Hery Rajaonarimampianina].  He will also meet with the Presidents of the Senate and the National Assembly and address a joint congress of both chambers.  He will also have discussions with representatives of civil society and the private sector.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

And the Deputy Secretary-General [Jan Eliasson] was in Nepal today, where he met with local communities affected by last year’s devastating earthquake.

Speaking to communities and local authorities, the Deputy Secretary-General stressed the need to focus on immediate needs and longer-term support. He urged them to share lessons learnt from disaster response with the rest of the world.

He also met with the President, Prime Minister and other high-level officials in Kathmandu.  He is now on his way to Viet Nam where he is expected to meet with the Government as well as visit drought-affected communities in the southern province of Ben Tre.  He will be back in the office on Friday.  

**World Humanitarian Summit

And on the subject of the World Humanitarian Summit, we will have as a guest right after I’m done, Stephen O’Brien, the Emergency Relief Coordinator and the head of the Office of the Coordination of the Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who will update you on the preparations of the Summit.

**Mali

Over the weekend, the head of the UN Peacekeeping Department, Hervé Ladsous, was in Mali visiting the UN Peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA) in that country.

During his two-day trip, he met with Malian Government officials, including the Prime Minister [Modibo Keita] and the Foreign Minister [Abdoulaye Diop].

On Saturday, he discussed the progress on the peace process with the International Mediation team.  And yesterday, he travelled to Tessalit, and then Kidal, where he met with representatives of the signatory armed groups of the peace agreement.

During his discussions with the Government and the signatory armed groups, he urged them to accelerate the pace of the implementation of the Agreement.  And in Kidal, the Under-Secretary-General also toured the UN Peacekeeping base.

**Burundi

On Burundi, as a follow up to the press briefing you received from Oscar Fernández Taranco on Friday, just to let you know, the UN Peacebuilding Fund finalized the transfer of $2.26 million in direct aid to the African Union to finance 32 human rights observers already on the ground in Burundi for an additional six months.

The Peacebuilding Fund is also providing just over $300,000 to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Burundi for training and joint monitoring missions with the African Union.

This is the first time the Fund provides direct aid to the AU Commission, or any regional organization, and a move toward strengthened cooperation between the UN and the AU in peacebuilding.  The funding is a stopgap ahead of the planned deployment of up to 100 African Union human rights observers.

**Yemen

And as you have seen yesterday, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the Special Envoy for Yemen, issued a statement in which he said that he understood the reasons that led the Government of Yemen to suspend its participation in the plenary sessions of the Yemeni Peace Talks.  However, he urged all parties to engage in good faith and demonstrate wisdom in their participation in the talks.

He said that all difficult issues should be discussed at the negotiating table in a transparent manner in order to reach a comprehensive agreement.  He noted that he is in constant contact with the De-escalation and Coordination Committee (DCC) and through it to the local committees to investigate and halt all breaches of the Cessation of Hostilities.

After communicating extensively with the Government of Yemen delegation and meeting the leaders of Ansar Allah and the General People's Congress delegation on Sunday afternoon, the Special Envoy confirmed that he had received assurances from the parties regarding their commitment to resolving the outstanding issues without convening joint sessions.

UN political experts are currently reviewing the documents presented by the two delegations in order to identify common ground.

He hopes to resume the talks and build on the tangible progress achieved in recent days.

**Iraq

And an update from our humanitarian colleagues on Iraq:  the humanitarian situation across Iraq continues to deteriorate, with displacement increasing as military operations continue and clashes break out among other forces.

The UN and our partners are responding to new displacement in three areas: the Anbar corridor, the Mosul corridor, and the northern Salah al-Din Governorate.

An outbreak of fighting in Tuz Khormatu displaced nearly 14,000 people last week from 23 to 26 April.

In central Anbar [Governorate], military operations have displaced around 60,000 people since early March.  In Erbil Governorate, on the edge of the Mosul corridor, over 3,800 people have been displaced by ongoing military operations over the past two months.

Humanitarian assistance is being provided in all locations, though insecurity, strict security screening procedures, the remote location of displaced people, and overcrowded camps remain critical barriers.

We also remain extremely concerned about the reports of dire humanitarian conditions inside Fallujah. We do not have access to the area to verify conditions directly; however, remote monitoring of food prices and availability indicates severe shortfalls.

And the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) expressed its grave concern over the weekend at the developments in Baghdad, including the storming of the Council of Representatives by demonstrators after they entered the International Zone.

And in a separate statement, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, expressed outrage at the deliberate targeting of civilians in two car bombings in the city of Al-Samawah in southern Iraq yesterday.

**Ecuador

A few more updates, this one on Ecuador: on the earthquake response in Ecuador. OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) says that several Member States, UN agencies and international NGOs (non-governmental organizations) have activated internal emergency funding and have provided in-kind supplies and other forms of assistance.

A three-day supply of food aid has reached more than 65,000 people in Manabi and Esmeraldas provinces.

WFP (World Food Programme) also plans to introduce cash transfers and will conduct a food security assessment in coordination with the Government and partners.  UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), for its part, has provided water purification tablets, water tanks and containers, as well as setting up latrines in affected areas.  More information online.

**Press Freedom Day

Tomorrow is World Press Freedom Day, and the Secretary-General, in a message, says that a free, independent and safe media environment is essential.  Yet, all too often, journalists are threatened, harassed, obstructed or even killed in the pursuit of information.  Many languish in detention, some in appalling conditions, for shedding light on governance failures, corporate malfeasance and societal problems.

In his message the Secretary-General urges all Governments, politicians, businesses and citizens to commit to nurturing and protecting an independent and free media.  Without this fundamental right, people are less free and less empowered.

That statement is available, and also this evening, the Secretary-General will make remarks when he receives the Spirit of Helen Keller Prize, in which he will pay tribute to Helen Keller’s work as a champion of the underprivileged and the marginalized.  That is taking place off-campus; if you are interested — let us know.

**Western Sahara

Point of clarification on Western Sahara:  over the weekend a question came up about Ahmed Boukhari, the representative of the Polisario Front in New York. One of the news agencies reported that UN security guards had escorted him off the UN premises.  This is completely false, no such incident ever occurred.

As the representative of one of the parties to the Western Sahara conflict and to the UN-facilitated negotiations to find a solution, Mr. Boukhari is responsible for the Polisario's interaction with the highest levels of the Secretariat; he has a valid badge to enter UN premises whenever he wishes.

**Central African Republic

Matthew — you’ve asked me about two civilians allegedly killed in Bangui, CAR (Central African Republic), by UN peacekeepers in August 2015.

I can tell you that a Board of Inquiry was established last year to review the circumstances in this case.  

The Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) also investigated and a copy of its final report was shared with the Board in January to assist in its own review.  The work of the Board has been completed and the report is now being finalized.

**Public Events

A public event “Gender-responsive Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, organized by UN-Women will take place between 1:15 to 2:30 p.m. in the ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) Chamber.

Another public event entitled “Health, Resilience, and the Added Value of the Human Security Approach to Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” will take place between 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. in Conference Room 6.

**Press Conferences

Besides Stephen O’Brien, who is going to join me in a minute, at 5:00 p.m. in this very room the President of the Security Council for the month of May will brief you on the Security Council programme and that is, of course, Ambassador Amr Abdellatif Aboulatta of Egypt.

Tomorrow I will be joined at noon by Pierre Krähenbühl, the Commissioner-General of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees).

**Honour Roll

We say thank you to our friends in La Paz [Bolivia] who have paid their [UN dues] in full.

**Questions and Answers

Spokesman:  If you have a question, you can ask.

Question:  Stéphane, about the situation in Iraq, for the first time since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the security of the Green Zone has been compromised and some Iraqi officials on the record said that… warned against total chaos and the collapse of the State, complete collapse of the State and the Government.  Has the Secretary‑General been informed about the situation there?  Has he been involved in talks in this, as various international observers say the situation in Iraq is very serious right now?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General is very much aware of what is going on.  The message from the Secretary‑General and from his Special Representative is a call on all political leaders and civil society to work together to ensure dialogue and the implementations of the reforms that are necessary to draw out Iraq from its political and economic and security crisis.  I think, as I mentioned just on the humanitarian update, there continues to be great humanitarian needs, due to increasingly precarious security situation.  As for the situation in the international zone, we continue to work out of that area and are in touch with various parties to help facilitate the work of the Iraqi Government.

Question:  Just a follow‑up on that, about the work of UNAMI, is the offices operational?

Spokesman:  That is what I just said, we continue to work.

Question:  Is the office in Baghdad, is it open as normal?

Spokesman:  We continue to work out; we continue to work.  Yes is the short answer to your question.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  And just on World Press Freedom Day groups are calling for an SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General), specifically the General Assembly (GA) to appoint an SRSG for the safety of journalists and issue of impunity.  Is the Secretary‑General aware of that request?  What does he think of it?  And would he need to just wait on the GA before he could make that decision?

Spokesman:  Obviously something we are aware of.  There have been various discussions within the Secretariat and we know the General Assembly is seized of it.  The Secretary‑General's position on press freedom is clear, as I've just read out.  On the issue of impunity, that those who harass, kill and torture journalists needs to face justice.  There are already a number of mechanisms in place in different parts of the system, whether it's the human rights mechanisms or UNESCO that are there to help protect journalists.  But, as I said, we will see where the discussions go in the General Assembly.  Mr. Klein, Madam, then Messieur?

Question:  Thank you.  Merci.  My question is on the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) audit which, you know, related to Ng Seng, which we were told was going to come out in the middle of April, so I'd like to know whether you can inform us of the current status of that; and, secondly, when it does come out, will there be an effort, in the spirit of breaking down silos and looking at the UN as one system, to combine resources of the UNDP's audit and investigatory arm and the Secretariat’s to delve further as a follow‑up into the whole pattern of relationships here?

Spokesman:  There is nothing that I would like to see more than the release of that UNDP audit, so people stop asking me about when it's going to be released.  My understanding from UNDP is that it was imminent.  I hope that is still the same.  I have no reason to believe that is still… that has changed in any way, so I would beg for your patience and we will see with the audit, while the audit says.  Now, obviously, information is shared across the system, and as I said our own audit led to further investigations and we will see obviously what the OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services), the UNDP audit has to say.  Ms. Landry and Mr. Lee.

Question:  Stéphane, the statement on Syria, the appeal to extend the arrangements to Aleppo, is that something that the Secretary‑General has raised or plans to raise directly with the Russians?

Spokesman:  Well, this is definitely what Mr. de Mistura has raised with the Americans.  He is on his way for the second part of those discussions in terms of the two co-chairs, where he is on his way to Moscow currently.  We feel that the ISSG, especially the co-chairs, have a great role to play in bringing the level of violence back down in Syria.  I think, as we said in the statement, it's obviously first and foremost about alleviating the suffering of the Syrian people who are suffering from the violence, but it's also about ensuring that the political process stays on track.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Stéphane, I wanted to follow‑up on two things you announced at the top.  One is you said that the envoy on Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, understood the reasons for the breakdown of the talks, and it seems to be the alleged takeover of a base in Amran by the Houthis.  And many people who know it say the Houthis controlled that base since September 2014 and so they view it as a pretext.  I'm wondering are you… can you say a little bit more about why the envoy says that he understands why one side walked away from the table and if the UN understands this base in Amran was not controlled by the Houthis since 2014?

Spokesman:  I have nothing more to add than what I have said on Yemen.

Question:  And on Mr. Boukhari, I never… what I wanted to ask you about is he did speak at the stakeout after Algeria's Permanent Representative and for a time the sound and picture went out but then it came back up, which seemed to be appropriate.  But I'm noticing now in terms of the archive version, it's not up.  What is the UN's position, you say he has every right to be in the building, if he is, in fact, invited and accompanied by the Permanent Representative of a Member State, why is the video of his stakeout not on the UN archives?  Can you find out?

Spokesman:  We can check with DPI (Department of Public Information).  Oleg?

Question:  On this ceasefire in Damascus and Lattakiya, what is the UN understanding, has it been holding up?  Did it work, since Ban Ki‑moon is calling for organizing something in Aleppo?

Spokesman:  I think we have seen… there seems to have seen a bit of a drop in the violence in those areas, but we have also seen the violence very much continuing in Aleppo, which the Secretary‑General would like to see end.  Masood then Rami.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Just a follow‑up, do you have any idea when will the Yemen talks begin again, does he know?

Spokesman:  They are continuing.  They just… they are continuing, so they have not… what has been suspended is the direct talks between the parties.  But as far as I understand it, the parties are remaining in Kuwait and the Special Envoy will be speaking to both sides separately.

Question:  So they are posted… the Yemen Government, I mean, said they would not participate in the talks, basically is erroneous, what you say?

Spokesman:  No, from what I understand, and it's only limited to my understanding, which is sometimes limited, is that the direct talks have… the face‑to‑face talks have been paused.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thanks Stéphane.  The Prime Minister of the Tobruk‑based Government in Libya has announced the dismissal of his country's UN Ambassador, Ibrahim al‑Dabbashi.  As far as the UN goes, what is the process for the enforcement of this type of decision and what is the Secretary‑General's stance on this?  I mean, you have three governments in Libya now, which one is the legitimate government that can make such a decision?

Spokesman:  I had not seen those reports, but the way these things are dealt with is that there is a credentials committee and if an ambassador’s or delegate's credentials are questioned, it is up to the credentials committee, which is made up of Member States, to issue that ruling.

Question:  But the Secretary‑General, I mean, and the UN, I mean, who do they deal with?

Spokesman:  We work with the Presidency Council, which has just returned to Tripoli.  As far as who represents under the UN, the issue of credentials is up to Member States.  Edie?

Question:  Just as a follow‑up on Libya, is there any movement on the recognition, the full recognition of the Government that's just returned?  And is the UN now operating in Tripoli or this…?

Spokesman:  We've increased our activities in Tripoli; that has happened.  Obviously, as I said, we have worked with the Presidency Council; we have called for all the political actors and people in Syria to rally around that Government.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Yeah, on the question about journalists' safety and security in conflict zones, so does the SG have the authority to appoint a special envoy or assistant on this or he needs to be authorized by the General Assembly?

Spokesman:  We need to be a mandate from one of the legislative bodies.  Olga?  Sorry, go ahead.

Question:  On Yemen, just to clarify, so the resumption of the direct talks, does that seem to be a matter of days or weeks or months?

Spokesman:  I think whether it's Syria, whether it's Yemen, I think all these talks we take a day at a time.  Nabil?  Ali?

Question:  I wish I was Nabil.  [Laughs] A follow‑up on Libya: so at this point you are still dealing with Mr. Dabbashi as the Permanent Representative of Libya, just to clarify?

Spokesman:  As far as of this morning, that was the understanding.  Again, the issue of credentials and who represents who is one for the Member States to challenge, should there need to be a challenge.

Question:  And my question is on Western Sahara and resolution 2285, do you have a specific interpretation to the full functionality of MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara) to be resumed in Western Sahara?  What does that mean?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  It means it's not the situation that we currently have, because it is not at its full functionality.  Critical staff are no longer there.  We would like to see a return of the mission to be able to fulfil its mandate, and currently it is not in a position to fulfil its mandate.

Question:  Just to clarify, do you mean that the same number as it used before should return and is it a matter of negotiations with the Moroccan Government?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Obviously, discussions will be had with the Government, with the Group of Friends who are Security Council members.  We have our marching orders from the Security Council and we will go forward from there.  Carole and then Matthew.

Question:  That point, the resolution says that the Secretary‑General should report in 90 days.  Now, if the mission is breaking down, would he report earlier?

Spokesman:  Of course.  If there is a need to report earlier, the Secretary‑General would definitely report earlier.  We take these dates as the… I mean, we take these dates as the ultimate date.  Obviously, if there is… we are aiming for the 90 days but if there is a need to report earlier, we would report earlier.  Mr. Lee then Evelyn.

Question:  Sure, I want to ask about Burundi, UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), and the audit.  In Burundi, the President, [Pierre] Nkurunziza, on May Day gave a speech in which he said everything is now fine in the country and if… those who do not return as… those who are refugees currently outside of the country, if they don't return, they will lose their jobs and have their positions changed.  I wanted to know, and maybe you will know what the law in terms of refugees are, but what is the UN's response?  Does the UN believe that the country is now stable enough that refugees should go back and should people who have sought refuge in other countries face the loss of anything?

Spokesman:  It is up to refugees to make up their own mind as to when they feel it is safe to come back and that is just a matter of principle.  Obviously the situation in Burundi remains very precarious.

Question:  What about a Government saying we are going to eliminate rights that you have?

Spokesman:  As I said, it is the rights of refugees to choose when they can return.

Question:  Will you confirm that Erik Solheim is being named the head of UNEP and, if so, can you respond to the idea that four of the five heads of UNEP have been from the developed world and that, for example, the Ambassador of Kenya and others were candidates?

Spokesman:  No to the first part of your question, so therefore I can't answer the latter questions. 

Question:  Can you confirm four out of the five?

Spokesman:  You can confirm that yourself.  Oleg?  Thanks.

Question:  Any message from Ban Ki‑moon on the anniversary, second anniversary of the tragic events in Odessa where dozens of people were burned to death?

Spokesman:  No, not particularly, just to reiterate what we had said at the time.

Question:  And what did you say at the time?

Spokesman:  I can't remember.  Evelyn?

Question:  Thanks, I'm not sure what the SG has to do on Western Sahara in those 30 days or 90 days, I mean?

Spokesman:  He has to report back on the implementation of the resolution.

Question:  What does he do to be able to report back, does he talk to Morocco or what?

Spokesman:  As I said to Ali, we are having discussions with Security Council members, the Group of Friends, and obviously we will also be talking to Morocco.  One question?

Question:  Okay, on the audit, on the audit, not the UNDP one that has not been released but on the OIOS UN audit — of the seven recommendations, four of them were to have been implemented with documentation by 30 April including the assignment of responsibility for the changing of the document by the Secretariat’s DGACM (Department of General Assembly and Conference Management), the acceptance of gifts by Secretariat staff, I could go through the other two… So I'm asking you, have these been implemented and, if so, will the documentation be made public in the spirit of transparency?

Spokesman:  I have no doubt the concerned departments have been following up with OIOS.  If I have something to share, I will.

For information media. Not an official record.