The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stephane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Alright, good afternoon. As you just heard from Terje RA�d-Larsen, he wrote to the Secretary-General yesterday to advise him that he would be stepping down from his duties as Special Envoy on the implementation of resolution 1559 (2004), effective the end of this month [31 May 2016]. The Secretary-General is grateful indeed to Mr. RA�d-Larsen for his dedicated service as one of his senior advisers on a variety of issues pertaining to the Middle East over the last 12 years. He very much looks forward to continuing to work with Mr. RA�d-Larsen in his capacity as President of the International Peace Institute.
The Secretary-General has decided to task the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, to take on the responsibilities of reporting on resolution 1559 (2004) until the end of this year, until 31 December, so as to give the next Secretary-General flexibility to choose on how to report on the resolution. Mr. RA�d-Larsen, of course, briefed the Council in closed consultations on the resolution.
Since we are talking about personnel appointments, I have two more: following the nomination by the Secretary-General, the General Assembly today elected Erik Solheim of Norway as Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) for a four-year term. Mr. Solheim, as you know, will succeed Achim Steiner of Germany, to whom the Secretary-General conveys his gratitude and appreciation. The biography of Mr. Solheim is available in my office.
And today we are also announcing the appointment by the Secretary-General of Lieutenant General Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki of Kenya as the Force Commander of the UN Mission in South Sudan, otherwise known as UNMISS. The Lieutenant General will replace Lieutenant General Tesfamariam of Ethiopia, who will complete his assignment on 17 June. The Secretary-General is grateful to Lieutenant General Tesfamariam for his dedication and invaluable service during his tenure at UNMISS. Lieutenant General Ondieki brings to the position more than 34 years of national and international military, command and staff experience. Details of his service are available in my office.
**Sexual Exploitation and Abuse
As we speak, there is an Informal Briefing of the General Assembly on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. Just a few minutes ago, at this briefing, the Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Atul Khare, stressed that the provision of assistance to victims is an area where experience has shown that the UN needs additional resources and strong collaboration among peacekeeping.
He also indicated that the United Nations made progress in facilitating paternity and child support claims against peacekeepers. Mr. Khare also reiterated that if allegations are substantiated, the Organization takes all action within its control, and added that the UN counts on Member States to work together to bring those who have committed shameful acts to justice. This must be our collective effort, he said.
And the Special Coordinator on improving the UN’s response to these types of abuses, Jane Holl Lute, also briefed the General Assembly on her visits to the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She stressed that every personnel, every soldier, every police officer needed to join the fight against Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, and the need to develop tools to measure the efficiency of our measures. She was still speaking a few minutes ago and that meeting is opened and will be archived on the UN WebTV for you to view.
Today in Kuwait, the Yemeni parties held a plenary session to evaluate the three committees’ work and agree on the next steps. The three committees of the Yemeni peace talks met in morning and afternoon sessions yesterday, as well to continue discussions on the principles and mechanisms of their respective themes.
The parties emphasized the need to reach a viable and sustainable solution that is acceptable to both and in line with the agreed reference points, including the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative, the National Dialogue Outcomes and relevant Security Council resolutions.
The Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said that the humanitarian and economic situations in Yemen means that an agreement is needed soon. He said that the parties should build on the unprecedented international support for a peaceful solution and work to arrive at an understanding.
Ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul, the Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien will travel to Niger and Nigeria, from 16 to 19 May, to take stock of the humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad Basin. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the crisis in the Lake Chad Basin, including Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad, has continuously deteriorated over the last two years.
Insecurity, violence by Boko Haram and counter-insurgency measures have uprooted over 2.4 million people in the area, making it the fastest growing displacement crisis in Africa. In the worst-affected areas, almost half the population – 9.2 million people need assistance. More than 3 million of them are affected by food insecurity.
And the Secretary-General is about to leave Lisbon, Portugal, on his way back to New York. Earlier today, he met with the President of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, and we will have a readout a bit later. The President also presented the Secretary-General with the Order of Liberty [Ordem de Liberdade] of the Republic of Portugal. The Secretary-General also met with the President of the Parliament and they discussed the ratification of the Paris Agreement by Portugal, as well as the role of parliamentarians, among other issues. The Secretary-General also met with UN staff before leaving the country.
The Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees [in the Near East] (UNRWA), Pierre KrA�henbuhl, visited Syria on Wednesday and Thursday, meeting with Palestine refugees, UNRWA staff and government officials. He said that UNRWA remains determined to resume direct distributions inside Yarmouk when the conditions permit. As steps are under way to try and resolve the wider Syria conflict, UNRWA staff in Syria are doing their utmost to provide crucial assistance and services to Palestine refugees. There are more details available in my office.
A couple of notes on Human Rights from Geneva: the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that he has renewed – request to the Government of Turkey to allow the Office’s team access to the country to independently examine allegations of violations of international law, including conflicting and competing claims.
Just to remind you that on 10 May, the High Commissioner had expressed deep concern about alleged violations committed by Turkish military and security forces in south-east Turkey over the past few months. In response, the Government of Turkey made a statement that it will welcome a visit by the High Commissioner to the region. The High Commissioner had emphasized that full and unhindered access for the UN human rights team to the affected population and locations, authorities, documentation and other relevant materials in south-east Turkey was essential to any credible fact-finding mission.
The High Commissioner’s Office also said that they remain deeply concerned at the situation of dozens of protestors who have been arrested during peaceful rallies on 14 and 16 April in the capital [of Gambia], Banjul. OHCHR has received worrying reports that some of them, who were still in detention, may have been tortured. The Office also reiterated its call to the Gambian authorities to launch an impartial investigation into the reported death in custody of Solo Sandeng, Chairman of the youth wing of the opposition United Democratic Party. It also expressed deep concern about the situation of Alhagie Ceesay, the Director of the Teranga FM radio station, who has been on trial for sedition and false information since July 2015. More details available online.
And an update from UNICEF [UN Children’s Fund]: as you would recall about the abduction of 146 children in the Gambella region of western Ethiopia, who had been taken to South Sudan in cattle raids a month ago. UNICEF says today that 29 of these children have now been released through negotiations between the Ethiopian and the South Sudanese Governments. UNICEF works in close collaboration with the Government of Ethiopia and partners on family tracing, reintegration, psychosocial support, basic health-care and nutrition services for all of these children. More information from UNICEF.
The UN refugee agency said that approximately 1,000 people of various nationalities, including refugee families and unaccompanied children, had been rescued from the Mediterranean Sea in recent days in operations coordinated with Frontex – the EU [European Union] border management agency. In one operation carried out on 12 May, some 500 people travelling in two fishing boats that had departed several days earlier from Egypt had been rescued off Sicily. Apart from the two fishing boats that had sailed from Egypt, it was believed that there had been other smaller boats coming from Libya. UNHCR staff is providing information and assistance to rescued persons.
**Press Briefings Monday
On Monday, I will be joined at the press briefing by phone by Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education. He will brief you on the forthcoming World Humanitarian Summit, and his initiatives around the Summit. And then at 1:30 p.m., there will be a briefing in person I assume by the UN Human Settlements Programme, UN-Habitat, on the Habitat III Conference and the role of local authorities. As you will recall, Habitat III takes place in Quito, Ecuador from 17 to 20 October.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thanks, Stephane. The group of experts on DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] has said that the that Rwanda has been training Burundian rebels this year. There had been suggestions that if in fact it had been done, it would have ended last year. The Rwandans deny it. Does the Secretary General or the UN have any concerns about this? And also I wondered if the Secretary General had any comment on the killing of a top Hezbollah commander in Syria which Hizbullah has blamed on Israel?
Spokesman: On your second part, we’ve only seen press reports. We have obviously no independent information on the death of the Hizbullah commander. We would just appeal for calm. On your first on your first question, the group of experts submitted their final report to the Sanctions Committee I think earlier this month on 3 May. It will be discussed in the afternoon. The report, however, remains confidential and will only be released mid June. So, until then I have no comment. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure I just wanted to on the same report, I wanted to ask you because it’s the kind of thing that MONUSCO [UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo], one would think, would be reporting. Paragraph 74 of the report says the Lord’s Resistance Army is, in fact, having an upsurge in its activity [inaudible]. There are also reports of FARDC [Forces Armees de la Republique Democratique du Congo] elements working with various armed groups and that the FDLR [Forces democratiques pour la liberation du Rwanda] is the largest recruiter of child soldiers. So, I understand what you’re saying about the report, but I guess my question to you is: aren’t things like LRA, Lord’s Resistance Army, activities within the mandate of MONUSCO, and why haven’t we heard from this podium?
Spokesman: Well, I think MONUSCO reports, in its periodic reports, to the Security Council. When there are things we are able to report from this podium, we do. I know they hold regular press conferences down there.
Question: What’s the UN been doing about the Lord’s Resistance Army since the last time you raised it here from this podium?
Spokesman: I have no fresh information. It remains an area, obviously, of concern in the Mission for us. Olga and then Evelyn.
Correspondent: Again, on the Rwanda training Burundian rebels, that’s been in the reports for quite a while, and I have not seen any reaction, confirmation or anything else. The group of experts had mentioned it in previous reports. And there have been new stories on it of people who have actually interviewed them. So, it just sort of sits there.
Spokesman: Well, I think it’s you know, the group of experts does its work to the Sanctions Committee reports back. And obviously its work needs to be taken seriously; needs to be acted upon.
Question: Quick follow up? Ignoring the protocol on the report, I mean, as Evelyn said, these allegations are out there if you talk to UN officials privately who, you know, know about these things. I mean, they will say that the allegations, you know, seem to have some substance behind them though nothing has been proven. I mean, what is the UN’s position on this? Have people from the UN discussed this with Rwanda; Burundi is obviously a key issue.
Spokesman: I think it’s important for the situation within the Democratic Republic of the Congo that all its neighbours play a constructive role and support peace and stability in the country. Olga?
Question: Thank you, Stephane. After the humanitarian convoy was refused entry into Darayya, have you contacted the Syrian Government, and what will be the next step for the UN?
Spokesman: There are no new convoys to report on today. Our colleagues on the ground remain in constant contact with the Syrian Government. As soon as we get green lights, we send convoys through. So, as soon as they feel comfortable enough to restart the engines and relaunch the convoy, they will do so.
Question: Any expectations in this case from the ISSG [International Syria Support Group] meeting in Vienna?
Spokesman: You know, obviously, for with all including especially the Special Envoy [Staffan de Mistura] have stressed the importance of this upcoming ISSG in order to restore the full cessation of hostilities and have calm restored which will enable us to increase the humanitarian deliveries. As we said yesterday, the beginning of this month has not been good at all for the deliveries. Mr. de Mistura will be very much present at the ISSG meeting and will make his concerns very clear at that point. Oleg.
Question: Thanks, Steph. Thank you for the response yesterday on the World Humanitarian Summit. I just wanted to follow up. Except for Russia, did anybody any State Member State voice their concern in terms of their organization on the summit? Because in the Russian letter, you may have seen it, they say that the Member States were left on the sidelines on the road to Istanbul?
Spokesman: I think they have been they have been extensive discussions with Member States in the run up. This is a multi-stakeholder event, the World Humanitarian Summit is. In order to face the challenges that we have in terms of humanitarian needs, all hands need to be on deck. But, obviously, the UN and the Secretariat has spent a lot of time in discussions with Member States. We have to answer your question more directly, we have not, to my knowledge, received any letters besides the Russian letter.
Question: Thank you, Mr. Stephane. Last Sunday, The New York Times published an editorial on Bangladesh, “Bangladesh Descends into Lawlessness”. As you know, the LGBT editor, Xulhaz Mannan, bloggers killing, extrajudicial killing is going on and the Government harassment is going on. Particularly, an 82 year old editor in Bangladesh is in prison, and the President of the Bangladesh Union of Journalists is in prison. So, these things are happening in Bangladesh. What can be done to rescue Bangladesh from this lawlessness?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary General, various human rights parts of the organization have expressed their concern at the targeted violence we’ve seen in Bangladesh against reporters and bloggers. Also, the recent death penalty that was imposed. We would like we would like to see the Government create an atmosphere in which our journalists can operate can operate freely. Matthew?
Question: In this room, not at this podium, but sitting over there, one of the participants in the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues from Bangladesh was saying how the Bangladesh military is ever present and he said abusive in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. And so, they have stated there have been attempts by indigenous people in Bangladesh to meet with DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] and ask them what the relation is between the performance of the Bangladesh military in the country and its deployment as the number one troop contributing country around the world. He said they really don’t have a response from DPKO. So, I’m just wondering, given what my colleague just said about the upsurge in violence, what’s the status of DPKO’s review of Bangladesh military individuals both described in The Times, but also in indigenous lands?
Spokesman: We’re obviously very grateful to Bangladesh’s very important contribution to peacekeeping. Their troops, as all others, go through screening to ensure that no soldiers, no officers are involved in any human rights violations.
Question: Does DPKO or the Secretary General have a position on these Kigali Principles which would call for greater use of force by peacekeepers to protect civilians?
Spokesman: Well, I think you know, we have seen in the past a more aggressive posture by peacekeepers in the fulfillment of the mandate to protect civilians, whether it’s in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or whether it’s the situation in South Sudan where more than 200,000 people are being protected by peacekeepers. We would always welcome, I think, a growing emphasis on the protection of civilians.
Question: What would be your response to the fact that some of the largest actual TCCs [troop-contributing countries] didn’t sign on to the Kigali Principles, and many of the countries that signed in hardly give any peacekeepers at all, including?
Spokesman: I think, you know, the peacekeepers operate under mandates that are given to them by the Security Council and usually unanimously. Evelyn.
Question: Yes. The reports that Syria actually shocked the Syrian military actually shot at some civilians waiting for aid. Who controls Darayya? Which is it? The nameless rebel opposition rebel group, Al-Qaida, who? They’re fighting somebody there, and in the process of it don’t give a damn about the civilians.
Spokesman: I don’t have the exact information you’re looking for, but we have seen time and time again civilians pay the price for the fighting between the Government and the armed opposition, not to mention the extremist groups that still operate in Syria. Yes.
Question: Thank you, Stephane. About Turkey – will the Secretary General raise the issue of human rights violations in southeast Turkey with the Turkish leadership during the Summit?
Spokesman: I think you can expect the Secretary General to have a very broad discussion with the Turkish leadership that will include human rights.
Question: That specific question?
Spokesman: I answered your question to the best of my ability. Matthew. Then Oleg.
Question: I’m sorry. I guess a follow-up on that. I’m just checking. Maybe I missed it. Did your office put out a readout of a call between the Secretary General and President [Recep Tayyip] Erdo?an of Turkey?
Spokesman: No, not yet.
Question: Okay. But, there is going to be one because they have done one?
Spokesman: As I said, not yet.
Question: Can you confirm that the Secretary General wrote a letter that’s quoted to the Frente Polisario thanking them for the visit and for the welcome? Has he written such a letter, and was it recent?
Spokesman: I’m not aware of it. Go ahead. One more.
Question: All right. I want to be sure to ask you this one. I’d ask you earlier in the week about this Global Governance for UN Sustainable Development Goals. You said it’s unclear how or if it’s connected to Francis Lorenzo. It turns out that the event the Secretary General attended under their banner was in September in the Delegates Dining Room it was the book launch for John Ashe’s spouse’s book. And in it, the Secretary General gave a speech so did Francis Lorenzo specifically naming the group as the sponsor of the event and naming another group that sponsored DPI’s [Department of Public Information]. So, what I wonder is: does this make it clear to you that the group was both registered by?
Spokesman: I think, Matthew, all of this happened. I mean, it’s no secret the Secretary General attended the event. This happened, obviously, before Mr. Lorenzo, Mr. Ashe and others were indicted.
Question: I guess what I’m saying is as I asked you earlier in the week, UNFPA [UN Population Fund] absolutely was at this event of GG UNSG held outside of the building and the other group is still very much involved. First of all, that event you’re saying it’s no secret, but it wasn’t mentioned in the audit. You didn’t write the audit, so I don’t expect but what I am saying what would you say to people saying this audit is not that credible if it didn’t identify the Secretary General speaking from the same podium as Mr. Lorenzo?
Spokesman: I don’t I wouldn’t agree with you. Oleg.
Correspondent: Yes. Thanks. On Ban Ki moon’s meetings in Turkey, [inaudible], as well discussed efforts to counter terrorism because there were a lot of concerns about Turkey’s actions
Spokesman: I think you know, as I told Majid, we can expect the discussions with the leadership in Turkey to be very broad. And obviously it will include the region. You can follow up, but you have to let me finish my sentence. We’ll make that deal. Okay. Or at least finish the answer. What was I saying? Okay. Yes. As I said, it will be a very broad discussion that will encompass the regional dimensions and all that comes with it. And I look forward to being able to issue the readout to satisfy your questions. Go ahead, Oleg.
Question: Yeah. On a separate topic, you may have heard the UNDP [UN Development Programme] official in Nigeria, her name is Fatma Samoura, was named today as Secretary-General of FIFA, the football federation. Did you know about that? I wonder if you have any reaction to that because the UN has always been supportive of gender equality?
Spokesman: I had not heard that, but I’m excited for her. Sounds like a very interesting job. Maybe she needs a spokesman.
Question: About Turkey again, the allegation of the UN Human Rights Commission is the reporting sorry especially of the burning 100 persons alive in a basement is very strong. This is a big case at least in Turkey and for the region. You’re saying the discussion is broad. Are you telling me you’re not sure the Secretary General will not raise this issue?
Spokesman: You know, I never want to preempt what the Secretary General says. I stand by what I just said to you. We’re very aware of the case. I mean, the High Commissioner for Human Rights just mentioned it earlier today as part of his call for a credible fact finding mission into what happened to the 100 people who were reportedly burnt alive. So, I would just ask your indulgence and a little bit of patience until we get a bit more information.
Question: Since you mentioned the SC [Security Council] allegations, is there a date by which the UN will be able to provide more details of sexual abuse cases in the CAR [Central African Republic]?
Spokesman: Funny you ask. I mean what a coincidence. Let me put it that way. I do expect to have an update for you, what kind of numbers, on Monday. Okay. Matthew.Question: Sure. Maybe I misunderstood about the press conference by UNDP South South. But, when the audit first came out, you said it would be a matter of days. Now it’s been 10 days or 11 days. When is it going to happen?
Spokesman: Again, that’s what I was told. You’re welcome to call and get an exact date
Question: Does the Secretary General think that office should after six months
Spokesman: The Secretary General thinks that every office should give as many press conferences as possible. Yes. Go ahead.
Question: On Bangladesh again, media reported that Turkey withdrew their ambassador from Bangladesh as reacted to the recent death penalty saying it is an injustice. Do you have any comment on this issue?
Spokesman: No. I mean, that’s a bilateral issue between Turkey and Bangladesh. Evelyn.
Question: Yes. At the inauguration of President [Yoweri] Museveni in Uganda, the EU and US and Canadian delegates walked out after he chastised the well, said the ICC [International Criminal Court] was useless. Any reaction to this?
Spokesman: I mean, I think, as we said yesterday, the Secretary General would hope and expect that all countries that are parties to the ICC, which includes Uganda, would uphold their responsibilities to their signatures. Thank you. Thank you.
Source: United Nations