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

| June 13, 2016

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon — start off with a statement on Syria.  The Secretary-General condemns the abhorrent attack carried out on 12 June in Idlib city, Syria, which hit a vegetable market and the only bakery in the area. The apparent air strike took place while a ceasefire stipulated in the Four Towns Agreement, which covers Idlib city, had reportedly been restored over the weekend. Local sources reported that the attack left dozens of civilians, including women and children, dead or wounded.  The Secretary-General extends his deepest condolences to the bereaved families and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured. He calls on all those responsible for attacks on civilians to be held accountable.


As you will have seen, yesterday, the Secretary-General issued a statement expressing his horror at the attack that took place Orlando, in Florida.  And today, the Secretary-General is writing to both the Governor of Florida and the Mayor of Orlando to convey his deepest condolences to the people of Florida for the loss of life and injuries in yesterday's horrific and hateful terror act in Orlando that targeted members of the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community.  He said that such violence is despicable, and contrary to the values of equality, peace and mutual respect that underpin the United Nations.  At this time of shock and sorrow, he added, the United Nations stands in solidarity with the families of the victims and with the people of the United States.

And also from Geneva, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, spoke in Geneva and said that he condemned with the greatest possible force the outrageous attacks by violent extremists on innocent people, chosen at random, or because of their presumed beliefs, or opinions, or — as we saw yesterday — their sexual orientation.

The Deputy Secretary-General, meanwhile, was asked today in Geneva in a press encounter how the attack affected LGBT rights.  He expressed the hope that it would not prompt hate crimes.  He added that we need to exercise restraint and make sure that we are not provoked.  The Deputy Secretary-General said that the intention of those who carry out such attacks is to scare and divide people and that we need to be strong in standing up to our own values and for every human being’s equal worth.  His remarks are online.

**Syria — Humanitarian

Just to add to a note on Syria — an inter-agency convoy is delivering food, health, nutrition, water, sanitation and other essential supplies for 33,500 people in the hard-to-reach areas of Tir Mallah, Al Ghanto and Al Dar Alkabera in rural Homs.  The last inter-agency convoy to the area was on 2 April of this year.  Last Friday, the UN and its partners completed the delivery of much needed life-saving assistance to the besieged city of Douma in Rural Damascus, the first of a multi-phase delivery to bring food, nutrition items, health, hygiene and other humanitarian supplies for up to 40,000 people.  That convoy was the first UN inter-agency convoy to Douma since May 2014.

Since the beginning of 2016, inter-agency operations have reached over 830,000 people in desperate need in besieged, hard-to-reach and priority cross-line areas.  Many of these people have been reached more than once.  While this progress is welcome, much more is required, and the UN continues to call for unconditional, unimpeded and sustained access to the millions of people who need aid in hard-to-reach and besieged areas in Syria.

**Human Rights Council

And the Deputy Secretary-General spoke at the tenth anniversary of the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva.  He called on the international community to continue to place the victims and the vulnerable at the heart of all our efforts.  His full remarks are online.

**General Assembly

Earlier today, the Secretary-General spoke at the election of the next President of the General Assembly President — I think whom you just met a few minutes ago.  Congratulating President-elect Peter Thomson of Fiji, the Secretary-General said that, in addition to Ambassador Thomson’s staunch commitment to development, he brings to the post the very valuable perspective of a small island developing State.

The Secretary-General said that he counted on Mr. Thomson to help the international community carry out both the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change.  The Secretary-General also thanked the current General Assembly President for his many important initiatives, including in making the selection process for the next Secretary-General more transparent.


And from Libya, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya, Martin Kobler, today condemned in the strongest terms the recent killing of 12 prisoners in Tripoli after their release was ordered by the court.  Stressing that the rule of law is the foundation of democratic institutions, Mr. Kobler said that the crime should be thoroughly and independently investigated, and perpetrators must be brought to justice.

**South Sudan

And, Hervé Ladsous, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, wrapped up a three-day visit to South Sudan and spoke to the press there. He said that he had come to evaluate the situation on the ground, as well as progress made in the implementation of the peace agreement following the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity.

Over the weekend, he travelled to Bentiu and Malakal, where he also visited the Protection of Civilians camps.  In Juba, Mr. Ladsous met with President Salva Kiir, First Vice-President Riek Machar and Vice-President James Wani Igga and urged them to continue working towards the full implementation of the peace agreement.  He also indicated that, with the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity, the relationship of the UN with South Sudan is on a new footing.  Mr. Ladsous also separately met with the Chair of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Committee, former President [Festus] Mogae of Botswana.

**Occupied Palestinian Territory

And the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs’ latest Annual Humanitarian Overview of the Occupied Palestinian Territory says that the needs in the occupied Palestinian territory continue to be driven by Israel's prolonged occupation and continued conflict.  Deaths and injuries among West Bank Palestinians due to responses to attacks by Israeli forces were the highest since 2005, as were such casualties among Israelis from attacks by West Bank Palestinians, the report states.  While no new displacement occurred in Gaza, at least 70,000 Palestinians remain displaced following the destruction of their homes during the 2014 conflict.


And our colleagues at UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] today released its Projected Global Resettlement Needs for 2017, which states that 1.19 million people will need resettlements in 2017.  With a multitude of conflicts and crises causing record displacement around the world, resettlement has become an increasingly vital part of UNHCR’s efforts to find solutions and advocate for fairer responsibility-sharing for refugees; more information online.  And also on a somewhat related issue, we want to note China’s decision to join the governing body of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which we welcome.


Our colleagues at [the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] say that the security situation in Niger’s Bosso Department remains volatile following the deadly attack, reportedly led by Boko Haram, on 3 June.  An estimated 40,000 people have been displaced.  Since 7 June, authorities and humanitarian partners have been progressively conducting assessments and delivering assistance in accessible areas.  They have so far distributed water and high-energy biscuits and provided ambulatory health care.  However, only 25 per cent of the required $74 million needed for assistance in the Diffa region have been mobilized so far.  Emergency stocks have been diverted from other programmes to provide lifesaving assistance.  Aid organizations warn that additional resources are urgently required and must be made available immediately to prevent a humanitarian disaster.


I also want to flag today the arrival of the new Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Cyprus, Elizabeth Spehar.  She will be meeting with senior officials, civil society representatives, members of the diplomatic community and UN colleagues across the island in the coming days.  More details are available in a press release from the mission in Cyprus.  And on a related note, Lisa Buttenheim, the former Special Representative, was sworn in today as the new Assistant Secretary-General for the Department of Field Support.

**International Day of Peace

And our colleagues from the Department of Public Information wanted us to flag that today marks the 100-day countdown to the International Day of Peace, which is observed on 21 September.  The theme this year is:  "The Sustainable Development Goals:  Building Blocks for Peace".  And in his message for day, the Secretary-General urges everyone to recognize that development and peace are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.

To celebrate, [the Department of Public Information] Education Outreach Section has launched a new hip hop music video, in partnership with the Brooklyn-based education company Flocabulary.  The video aims to teach young people throughout the world about the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how they can help build peace.  If hip hop can do to Hamilton what they can do to the SDGs, we are on a good path.  And [the Department of Public Information] has also called on youth from around the world to help submit short videos on the topic.  More information on this is available online.

**Blood Donor Day

Tomorrow is World Blood Donor Day.  The World Health Organization (WHO) stresses that voluntary, unpaid blood donations must be increased rapidly in more than half the world’s countries.  Nearly 50 per cent of blood donations are collected in high-income countries, home to less than 20 per cent of the world’s population.  WHO encourages all countries to establish blood services based on full voluntary non-remunerated blood donations. 

Today, only 62 countries get close to 100 per cent of their national blood supplies from voluntary unpaid blood donations, with 34 countries still dependent on family donors and even paid donors for more than 75 per cent of their blood supply.  If you look around downstairs I think there is a sign-up sheet for blood drive right here at the UN Headquarters.  I encourage you to sign up.

**Solar Impulse

A reminder that, at 5 p.m. today at JFK [Airport], the Secretary-General will briefly meet the pilots and founders of Solar Impulse — the first solar plane that does not use any fuel.  As you know, the plan is to fly around the world and New York is its fourteenth stop on a journey that begun in Abu Dhabi last March.  The media advisory was sent around and with the details if you want to go to JFK.  Following this, the Secretary-General will leave for Brussels where he will participate in the European Development Days, then to St. Petersburg and Greece.  In Greece, as you are aware, he will travel to Lesvos to meet refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, as well as local volunteers and authorities.

**Pope Francis

A couple more notes:  I wanted to flag that Pope Francis visited the World Food Programme (WFP) in Rome today.  In remarks to staff, he gave support to the goal of eradicating hunger.  He called on Member States to increase their cooperation with WFP.  He said:  “In this way, the World Food Programme will not only be able to respond to emergencies, but also implement sound and consistent projects and promote long-term development programmes, as requested by each of the Governments and in keeping with the needs of their peoples."

**Noon Briefing Guest

And after we are done here, I will be joined by phone, as you probably already heard, by Lise Grande, Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, who will give you an update on everything is that is going on in Fallujah.  Edie and then Nizar.

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  Thank you, Steph.  We were reminded this morning that today is the Secretary‑General's birthday.  So, I think, on behalf of the UN Correspondents Association, we'd like to wish him a very happy birthday.

Spokesman:  Thank you very much.  I will pass that along.

Question:  Can you… can you tell us when we can expect an update on the sexual abuse investigation that's going on in the Central African Republic?  It's been quite a long time, and I think they should have been able to get some numbers together for us.

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, I think we last gave an update a couple weeks ago.  We'll see…

Question:  But, that did not involve…?

Spokesman:  We'll see what we can do in the next coming days.  Nizar and then Abdelhamid.

Question:  Yeah, I have two questions, one on Bahrain, the other on the United Arab Emirates.  In Bahrain, Nabeel Rajab, the human rights activist, once again was arrested in a raid at his home this dawn, early morning, without any excuse.  Even he… those who contacted him, he said he doesn't know why he was arrested.  Also, all human rights who wanted to go to Geneva to attend Geneva human rights meetings were prevented from… banned from travel from Bahrain.  Do you have any position on that?

Spokesman:  We're aware of the situation in Bahrain concerning the arrest.  We're just trying to get a little bit more information.  I should have something to you a little bit later today.  Obviously, we think it's critical that people, NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and civil society and activists, be able to travel as a matter of principle to Geneva to attend meetings at the Human Rights Council. [He later added:  The Secretary-General is concerned by the re-arrest of Nabeel Rajab, a leading human rights activist and founder of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.  He reiterates the right of people to the peaceful exercise of their freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association in Bahrain and everywhere.]

Question:  Another one on United Arab Emirates…?

Spokesman:  I'll… I will come back to you.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  I just want to say that Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein issued a statement about Rajab.  Okay.  I have two questions, Stéphane.  First, has the Secretary‑General had been invited to the funeral of Muhammad Ali?  And if so, why he didn't attend if he was invited?  And my second question, you know, [Nickolay] Mladenov rushed to welcome the statement by [Avigdor] Lieberman and [Benjamin] Netanyahu about maybe considering the Arab League initiative.  Now today, Netanyahu issued a statement that the Arab… he will never accept the Arab League as the basis for the solution or settlement.  So, don't you think that Mladenov was, in fact, in a… in a situation of a haste when he welcomed that statement?  And why he doesn't now issue a statement to the contrary?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I think Mr. Mladenov's position was clear.  He, like the Secretary‑General, stands in support of the two‑State solution, and we will continue to support any statements that are made to that effect.  On your second… on your first question, rather, we were advised that there was a role… an invitation for the United Nations to attend the funeral, and the Secretary‑General sent Adama Dieng to represent him, who, as you know, is the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  There's reported fighting on… in a place where the UN used to have a peacekeeping mission on the border of Ethiopia and Eritrea.  And given the past death count of such fighting, is the UN aware of it?  Have they reached out to either country?

Spokesman:  Yes, we definitely are aware of it.  I think the Secretary‑General's clearly concerned by the reports of fighting along the border.  The UN is reaching out to both parties to try to ascertain the details of the developments, because, obviously, we've just seen the press reports as of now.  And the Secretary‑General calls on both Governments to exercise maximum restraint and work to resolving their differences through peaceful means, including the full implementation of the peace accord signed by the parties, I think, in 2000.

Question:  Sure.  Including the border dispute?

Spokesman:  The full…

Question:  Sure.  And then I wanted to ask you about Burundi.  I wanted to ask you this on Friday, but I'll ask it to you now.  There's fairly well‑documented reports of what seems to be human trafficking, i.e., women and girls being flown from Bujumbura to Saudi Arabia and Oman.  The President has bragged about contracts he has to provide workers.  The Minister for Health has provided certificates, and people are saying they're going under false names, and it may… it's exactly what the UN's been condemning.  Was the UN aware of it, and what does it say about it?

Spokesman:  The UN may be aware of it.  I'm not personally aware of it.  I haven't seen the reports.  I do know, however, that three of the… three human rights experts are on their way to Burundi.  In fact, they're scheduled to arrive today.  They will be there through 17 June.  They will obviously meet with the usual actors, the Government, national civil society, victims of human rights violations, humanitarian organizations, and other parties operating in Burundi.  And the report… they are scheduled to issue their final report, I think, later this summer in Geneva.  Nizar?

Question:  Yeah.  Sheikh Khalifa, the ruler of United Arab Emirates, has been missing for long time.  The last time the Secretary‑General went to United Arab Emirates, he was not met by him.  He was not received by him.  And there are a lot of rumours in the United Arab Emirates that he was either poisoned or killed or… he is nowhere.  How does the United Nations deal with the current Government, since the ruler does not show up?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen those reports.  The Secretary‑General does not meet with the Head of State every time he goes to a country.  We're dealing with the UAE mission on a daily basis.  And I have no reason… I have no comment on these reported rumours you cite.

Correspondent:  But, I mean, he did not show in any television.  There's… on the social media.  There's a lot…

Spokesman:  I think those are questions to be addressed to the UAE Government.

Question:  Yeah, but here, if a President or ruler is missing, shouldn't there be some accountability…?

Spokesman:  Again, I think it's an issue to be dealt with at a national level.  On an everyday basis, we continue to deal with the UAE mission.

Question:  I have other questions regarding this explosion in Lebanon.  Recently, there are threats that ISIS and other terrorist groups want to conduct a bombing campaign in Lebanon.  Given the fragile situation there and the refugee situation and the regional ones, how do you view such threats and the recent attack on a Lebanese bank?

Spokesman:  We've seen the attack that took place over the weekend.  I think it's important for all of Lebanon's partners, regional partners and beyond the region to support the Government and to support the unity of Lebanon.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Great.  Thanks a lot.  Two transparency questions, which I'll do as quickly as possible.  One is, you'd said, I think it was 12 May, that the Malakal report would be out by the end of the month.  And I know that it's not out yet.  So, is there some… can you say what the delay is given that other parties have reported on the event?

Spokesman:  It's on its way and in the proverbial UN pipeline.

Question:  Okay.  And this one, just… I… just bear with me.  I wanted to say this… I wanted to ask you this, a request for a document.  The… the Under‑Secretary‑General of DPI wrote to [José] Ramos‑Horta in February and said that she had considered an internal report, and I've seen an aide‑memoire, which says that there's no written record of the same topic that she raised.  So, I wanted to know, can you square these two?  How is it possible…?

Spokesman:  No.  I have no… again, these are your personal issues.

Correspondent:  She wrote to the Senate and she wrote to a Nobel Prize winner…

Spokesman:  Matthew, Matthew.  We're good.

Correspondent:  No, no, we're not good…

Spokesman:  You may not be good.  I'm really good.

Correspondent:  I'm sure you're good.

Spokesman:  But, I'm not answering those questions.  Those are questions to be dealt with… your personal case should be raised directly with DPI.Correspondent:  I'm asking you how a Nobel Prize winner was told one thing, and the Senate was told something else.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  We're going to get our colleague on the phone.

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