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.
The Secretary-General, as you saw a bit earlier today, spoke at the Security Council this morning at the open debate on protection of civilians, with a specific focus on health care in armed conflict.
Stressing that intentional and direct attacks on hospitals are war crimes, the Secretary-General said that no Government should stand by and watch the erosion of safeguards for the protection of civilians in conflict. He added that the international community must never become numb to flagrant abuses.
According to the latest statistics from Physicians for Human Rights, the Secretary-General said that there have been more than 360 attacks on some 250 medical facilities in Syria alone. More than 730 medical personnel have been killed.
Calling such attacks shameful and inexcusable, the Secretary-General said that when so-called surgical strikes end up hitting surgical wards, something is deeply wrong. He added that even wars have rules.
He urged Member States to seize the opportunity for the forthcoming World Humanitarian Summit to take concrete action to uphold the norms to safeguard humanity.
And as you’ve seen, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the President of Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) also spoke at the briefing.
**World Humanitarian Summit
And on a note related to the World Humanitarian Summit: Just to remind you that the deadline for media accreditation requests for the Summit is 13 May. By my calculation, that is exactly 10 days from now. You need to apply with the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit, MALU, and there are details on how you do that on the MALU website should you be interested in going to Turkey for the World Humanitarian Summit.
Turning to Syria, the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, was in Moscow today where he met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Afterwards, he told reporters that, in recent days, he has been discussing the need to re-invigorate the cessation of hostilities in Syria, which has become more fragile.
Following his recent discussions, the Special Envoy expressed the hope that, possibly in the next few hours, the international community can relaunch the cessation of hostilities. If that were to happen, he said, the UN has been preparing for the future, having organized an Operations Centre with more Russian and US staff to monitor the cessation of hostilities. His remarks are available online.
Tomorrow, Mr. de Mistura will be in Berlin where he will meet with both the German and French foreign ministers.
And on the humanitarian end, our colleagues inform us that the recent escalation of violence in Aleppo and surrounding areas over the past two weeks has led to the death and injury of hundreds of people, many of them children, as well as damaging schools, hospitals, and other civilian infrastructure, and, of course, hindering humanitarian aid operations.
In Aleppo city, yet another hospital was damaged today, in the western part of the city, leading to reports of at least three deaths and 15 injured. This follows an attack on the Al-Quds hospital in the Sukkari neighbourhood in the eastern part of Aleppo city on 27 April, which resulted in approximately 20 fatalities, including those of at least three doctors, as well as many injuries.
We are all very concerned about the escalation of violence and the impact on civilians in other parts of the country; for example in Dara'a, where heavy fighting and aerial bombardment have resumed over the past week. We once more call on all parties to the conflict to take all measures to protect civilians, as required under international humanitarian law.
Turning to Iraq, Ján Kubiš, the Head of the UN presence in Iraq, condemned the terrorist car bombing that took place yesterday in Baghdad’s Saydiyah neighbourhood, which targeted civilians, including religious pilgrims.
Mr. Kubiš said that Da’esh’s criminality knows no limits, and now it is aiming the full wrath of its cruelty at pilgrims on their way to perform their religious duty. He expressed his confidence that such attacks will not be able to break the Iraqi people’s will and he urged them to remain united.
On Syria, a 12-year old Syrian refugee named Hanan Dacka has been selected by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Organizing Committee of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games to run with the Olympic Torch today in the Brazilian capital Brasilia.
UNHCR said in a statement that with the number of people displaced by conflict and persecution at highest levels in the post-World War II era, Hanan's carrying of the Olympic torch through Brasilia is about solidarity with refugees everywhere.
The Yemeni Peace Talks in Kuwait are continuing today. The UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, convened a number of meetings yesterday and today with delegations to the talks and with other political representatives and diplomats. The meetings were intended to ensure that the delegation of the Government of Yemen comes back to the negotiating table and to finalize a strategic framework that encompasses the proposals of the two delegations and seeks to bridge the divide that exists between them.
The Special Envoy said that the General Framework developed by the UN builds on common elements and lays the path for an inclusive, strategic process that will provide political stability and security for all Yemenis. That plan is being discussed with the two delegations in bilateral meetings, in order to determine their respective priorities and build on the common ground that has been identified.
**Central African Republic
Our colleagues in the Central African Republic, the UN Mission there (MINUSCA), report that the newly elected Central African National Assembly held its first session today. According to the session's agenda, the National Assembly is expected to elect its Executive Bureau, including the President of the National Assembly, and to adopt its rules of procedures, and to elect the members of the permanent parliamentary commissions.
This is an important step in the return of the constitutional order in the Central African Republic. So far, 128 out of the 140 MPs have been installed. The remaining twelve MPs will be elected during the partial elections which are scheduled to take place by 15 May.
UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) tells us that they’ve kicked off community work and debris removal opportunities for the first Ecuadoran families deeply affected by the 16 April earthquake. Around 30 women and men are working on debris management and repair of critical community infrastructure in the rural city of Las Gilces, 400km west of Quito, in the hard hit province of Manabi. The cash-for-work initiative will soon expand to other affected locations.
Also, some of the biggest stars in Latin music will perform in a benefit concert, titled “Ecuador Aquí Estoy,” — for those of you who don’t speak Spanish, that means “Ecuador, I am here for you”. And that will be in Miami on 11 May at 8 p.m. Proceeds generated through ticket sales will be donated to UNDP to place earthquake-affected communities at the heart of recovery efforts.
More information and hopefully the names of the artists are on the UNDP’s website.
Our friends at the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) told us today that the IAEA has helped repair Libya’s only operational radiotherapy machine after a long outage, enabling it to resume essential cancer care for hundreds of patients every month.
Responding to a request from the Libyan medical authorities, the IAEA provided assistance totalling $70,000 through its technical cooperation programme.
The radiotherapy machine in the Tripoli Central Hospital — and it can treat more than 10,000 patients per year — broke down in September 2015. In view of the urgent health needs, the IAEA procured spare parts and services from the manufacturer and the machine was brought back into operation.
And UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) today says its latest report on offshore financial centres and special purpose entities, also known as shell companies, [has been published].
The matter of illicit financial flows had been a topic of great concern for UNCTAD for a long time, the agency said, because such activity has an effect on development.
UNCTAD said that investment flows to offshore financial centres has retreated from their recent high of $132 billion, but were remaining in line with the flows of previous years.
One of the new elements, the report notes, is the rising volatility, which indicates the funds have being moved around more and more rapidly. Sounds like an interesting report. Go to the UNCTAD web-site, take a look at it.
**World Press Freedom Day
The Department of Public Information (DPI), in collaboration with the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) will organize this year's observance of World Press Freedom Day. And that will take place on Thursday, from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. in Conference Room 4. The event will be webcast and available in the six UN languages. Since it is a press freedom event, I will assume you are all invited, it is open.
The opening segment will be moderated by Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Cristina Gallach, and will include the Secretary-General's World Press Freedom Day video message and a video message from the President of the General Assembly.
And following the opening segment, a panel discussion with the focus on best practices will take place with leading journalists from different regions, to discuss the safety of journalists and freedom of information in the context of the new sustainable development agenda in the digital age.
The global celebration of World Press Freedom Day is taking place in Helsinki, Finland, from 2 to 4 May.
An event titled “Voices of Victims of Human Trafficking” co-organized by the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime), is taking place from 1:15 to 2:45 p.m., Conference Room 1. I assume that’s today.
And there’s event this evening organized by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), “Poster for Peace Congratulatory Ceremony”, 6 to 6:45 p.m., General Assembly Building, third floor. The Secretary-General will be there and make some remarks.
I will be joined in just a few minutes by the Commissioner-General of UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), Pierre Krähenbühl.
And tomorrow the guest will be Under-Secretary-General for Management, Mr. [Yukio] Takasu, who will brief you on the financial situation of this Organization, the United Nations.
And speaking of financial health today, we have two payments today, [Liberia] and Turkey, [the total number of Member States to have fully paid is now… 80].
**Questions and Answers
Spokesman: Thank you. How many? You're all pathetic. There you go, Matthew. You finally purchased. That's good. You get to ask a question. Go ahead.
Question: I'll start easy. Since you just were mentioning freedom of information and all of these very good things, so I wanted to know again, as asked previously, in that it is now almost ten years, the Secretary-General on the proposal of there being a UN freedom of information procedure, whereby people could request information and have some right to it. Has he taken any steps? And as an example, I guess, of this, yesterday I asked you whether the various departments asked by OIOS (Office for Internal Oversight Services) to take steps in the John Ashe/Ng Lap Seng audit did so by 30 April and to provide some documentation that they did. Do you have such documentation?
Spokesman: I do not. The audits follow the regular process. OIOS follows up with the departments to ensure that the recommendations are followed. Speaking of which, I failed to also announce that the long-awaited UNDP audit on South-South cooperation is now available on the office of… the UNDP office audit. We have the… if you have problems finding it, let us know. We have the exact location of the audit. On the issue, you know, that hasn't changed. I think proposals were put forward. The discussions were with Member States. So I have nothing to add on that.
Question: Is there going to be a press conference at long last by the South-South office of UNDP, as you promised us last October?
Spokesman: Mr. [Jorge] Chediak told me that he would be… I spoke to him earlier today, and he said he would be available in the coming days. As soon as we have a date, we will communicate.
Question: One last thing…
Spokesman: Yes, sir.
Question: I have been wanting… there's a widely circulated article saying that Helen Clark has kicked off a campaign trip for next SG, which is obviously within her rights. But I wanted to ask you again, what are the sort of… as the head of the UN system, Ban Ki‑moon, what are his thoughts on sitting, you know, full‑time UN officials… kicking off a campaign… essentially a political, you know, campaigning for the next SG site. Is she taking days off to do that? Is that…
Spokesman: I think that's… I think the details are questions for UNDP. As far as Secretary-General's concerned, he would expect that any UN official who is in the running for next SG will completely separate those activities from their professional work.
Question: Who's paying for the travel?
Spokesman: I think those details you should ask UNDP. I’ve told you what the SG's expectations are. Oleg?
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. On this attack on another hospital in Aleppo, do you have any information? Was it an air strike? Was it shelling? What was that?
Spokesman: No, we don't. The information is hard for us to come by. As far as what we do know is that the hospital was damaged and death ensued. I don't have any further details exactly. Go ahead, and then I have a statement I have to read.
Question: All right. So, and Ban Ki‑moon speaking at the meeting in the Council, he basically said that the Syrian Government is responsible for the attack on 27 April. He said that all the accounts point to that the Government was responsible. So all these accounts, where do they come from? Where do you get this information, since you don't have people on the ground in Aleppo? Thank you.
Spokesman: We get information from NGO partners, and from other sources. I do have a statement to read on Yemen and the verification mechanism, long awaited as well:
The Secretary-General welcomes the official launch on 2 May — that would be yesterday — of the operations of the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) based in Djibouti, following a request by the Government of Yemen.
The Secretary-General notes that UNVIM has been established to facilitate the unimpeded flow of commercial goods and services to Yemen, while ensuring compliance with the arms embargo established pursuant to Security Council resolution 2216 (2015). It should provide fast and impartial clearance services for shipping companies transporting commercial imports and bilateral assistance to Yemeni ports outside of the authority of the Government of Yemen. He further notes that the launch of UNVIM is part of broader efforts to bring relief to suffering Yemeni civilians, which he hopes will culminate in a negotiated political settlement between the Yemeni parties through UN-mediated talks currently under way in Kuwait.
The Secretary-General extends his appreciation to the European Union, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States of America for their generous contributions to support UNVIM.
Question: Thank you. Last Wednesday, a Palestinian girl, 23 years old… this is her picture. I want you to see her picture. She's a mother of two and pregnant six months. With her brother, 16‑year‑old, were murdered in mid‑daylight at Qalandiyah checkpoint. The two officers who conducted… the police said these are private company… private security company which hired by the police. And the private company, which is Nedrim Mizrahi, already declared the two police officer innocent because they followed the rules. Now, without even seeing the video… the video tape. The video tape was not released by the police, and they didn't ask for it, the other company. So why is Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov is silent when it comes these kind of midday murder of innocent civilians?
Spokesman: Look, I haven't seen this particular case. We would hope that any case involving the loss of life of a civilian is fully investigated by the authorities, and those… if there is a crime, that those are punished. But this needs to be investigated. I will check with UNSCO (United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process) if there's anything further. Sylviane?
Question: Follow up on Oleg’s questions: You just said where do you get your information regarding Aleppo? Because there are many other information that you can get. It's not only one information. There is a doctor, Dr. Nabil Antaki, who stayed there and he is reporting every day what's going on. Do you happen to have his reporting?
Spokesman: As I said…
Question: There is another journalist; he's there in Aleppo to write objectively on what's happening in Syria, in Aleppo particularly.
Spokesman: As I said to Oleg, we get our information from various sources, including humanitarian partners and NGO partners that we work with. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day, you mentioned earlier Secretary-General said free, independent and safe media environment is essential. I urge all government, politicians, businesses and citizens to commit to nurturing and protecting an independent, free media. Is the Secretary-General committed to practicing the same principle without… within the United Nations?
Spokesman: Without a doubt. What a surprise. Go ahead.
Question: I'm sorry. I was going to do this later. Maybe there's an explanation. Maybe I'm missing something. Yesterday with this reduced pass, I went to cover the Secretary-General's discussion in the ECOSOC (Economic and Social Chamber) chamber. I asked for MALU to come; they came. I'm getting to the point here. The point is, number one, even with a MALU escort, I was three times asked by guards what I was doing there with this pass. And finally I was told I'm not allowed to talk to diplomats there. I have to wait for them to come and talk to me, which is not really the way a staking out a meeting works. And so I wanted to know, how… it seemed totally contrary to, one, what other journalists can do, but two, to what journalism is. Meaning, so these appear to be the restrictions that have been placed on me, and I wanted to know, is that the case? Was there some misunderstanding, excuse me, on my part? Or is there some… what am I missing here, that you claim there is a respect for freedom of the press if I'm being stopped three times by guards and being told not to talk to diplomats.
Spokesman: Matthew, I think if there are particular issues, you need to deal with them with MALU. I think the Secretary-General's message is focused on those journalists who are imprisoned, who are tortured, who are vilified. I think your issue is one of access and one of accreditation. So I think they are two separate cases. You're here. I patiently answer every question you've asked… you ask. So again, if there's… if it's a personal issue of access or what a guard may have said to you, I would encourage you to deal with it bilaterally.
Question: It seems systematic. Three times, guards came and said you can't be here and stood in front of me while the Secretary-General walked by. I understand it's not torture, but I'm saying it is in the UN.
Spokesman: That's my understanding… Yes. There are rules and regulations and your pass… [Cross talk]
Question: Why can some journalists…
Spokesman: Matthew, I'm not going to… I'm not going to…
Question: I can bring the audio up. I was told, don't ask questions to diplomats.
Spokesman: Khalas. Go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. So after yesterday's briefing with Mr. [Stephen] O'Brien where he was very reluctant to name who might be participating in the World Humanitarian Summit, is there any way you could give us a sense, at least name one or two leaders who are for sure going to be there? Thank you.
Spokesman: You know, I think these… the numbers that we have are always preliminary numbers. They're numbers… they're works in progress. I think as we saw with the climate [summit], the numbers tend to rise as we get closer. When we're in a position and we're comfortable in releasing those names, we will be gladly… we will gladly do so. There we go. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I'm glad to hear you say answer to my question, “without a doubt”. How does the Secretary-General explain the fact that DPI has censored my book, Undiplomatic Look at the United Nations, and prevents it from being sold in the UN bookstore?
Spokesman: You know, I'm always happy to answer questions here dealt on personal cases, but I don't think… I think the word “censorship” may be a bit overblown in the context where we see censorship worldwide. If you have an issue with the bookstore, I would encourage you to deal with the bookstore. Thank you. Lou?
Question: Follow up on…
Question: Please. I have dealt with the bookstore, and their answer is that DPI, the Chief of Publication and Sales, has decided not to have the book on the shelves of the UN bookstore. And I have written twice to the Secretary-General, and he has not answered.
Spokesman: Mr. Abbadi, that may be a commercial decision. I think to use the word censorship is overblown. Lou?
Question: Thanks. On Stephen O'Brian, what he said yesterday, to follow up on that question, there continues to be criticism of OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) and suggestions that Mr. O'Brien and others are simply not pushing the Syrian Government hard enough, that they're afraid to really push as hard as they could to ensure that aid access is what it could be. We all know it's a difficult environment for them to operate, but how does the Secretary-General feel about this? I'm sure that he's heard these criticisms privately.
Spokesman: I think that the Secretary-General fully supports all the effort that OCHA has made and all the UN humanitarian agencies have made to try to get food, supplies, medical supplies into the hard-to-reach and besieged areas in Syria. The UN is not an NGO. We work within a particularly defined political context. But the UN, you know, our colleagues on the ground working with the Syrian Red Cross constantly push this to the limit. It is a challenging security environment. And we do the best that we can. Is it enough? No, clearly. The humanitarian deliveries are not enough because too many people remain without aid, but it is not from the UN's lack of trying. Thank you. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure, I have some country specific on Burundi and Sudan. But I wanted to, on this World Press Freedom Day theme, since you're saying that all of these things are just small examples or personal examples, I had asked you yesterday about the fact that the… the… the stakeout by the representative of Polisario was not put on the UN's website. You said you could… we could check with DPI. It wasn't clear to me who the "we" was, but I want to ask you, because I have gone back and checked and in 2012 when the same representative spoke, the archive did go up. It seems like… what's the trend here? What is the reason why a taped, several minutes long Q&A with Polisario's representative was not put on the UN's website?
Spokesman: I think… this issue… we're trying to work through this issue.
Question: Meaning what? Somebody's lobbying to not put it up?
Spokesman: I'll leave it at that.
Question: Okay. But you will finally announce why…
Spokesman: I will leave it at that.
Question: Okay. All right. So on Burundi, various countries have spoken about the postponement of the talks that were supposed to begin in Arusha under ex‑President [Benjamin] Mkapa. Does the UN have no involvement in them or no view of whether it's a good or bad thing that they were postponed?
Spokesman: I don't have anything on Burundi.
Question: Okay. And on Darfur… this is a direct peacekeeping question. There have been attacks on and within the Kalma camp, and I wanted to know since the people there are saying this is an attempt by the Government to empty the camps of IDPs (internally displaced people) in expectation of ousting the mission, what does UNAMID (Joint United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur) say? What are they doing about the…
Spokesman: I will try to get an update from them. Okay. I will try to get our guests. Please don't go away. We'll find them.