Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
First of all, a reminder: the Secretary‑General, accompanied by the Deputy Secretary‑General, is convening today the fourteenth Seminar for his current Special and Personal Representatives and Envoys, which is taking place in Mont Pèlerin, Switzerland. Next week, as we informed you yesterday, he will travel to Mali, where he will spend Peacekeepers’ Day next Tuesday in Bamako, with troops and personnel from the UN Mission in the country (MINUSMA). And also to remind you that Monday is a US holiday, and UN Headquarters will be closed. There will be no noon briefing that day.
The Secretary‑General has taken note with concern of the latest report on the downing of MH17. He underlines that the Security Council, in its resolution 2166 (2014), demanded that all States cooperate fully with efforts to establish accountability. In such instances, establishing the truth about this event is an important part of achieving justice for the victims and their families.
**Greece-The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
You will have seen that Matthew Nimetz, the Personal Envoy of the Secretary‑General, spoke to reporters a short while ago, about discussions he held over the past one and a half days with the Foreign Ministers of Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. He said that while there is, as yet, no final resolution of the issues, the issues have been narrowed. He noted that both sides are determined to try to reach an agreement and that they are working very hard to do that.
The UN Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has condemned the car bomb attack that took place today in Benghazi. The attack targeted a populated residential neighbourhood and left at least seven dead, including a toddler, and more than 10 injured. This week has seen a series of ruthless attacks in Libya. The Mission reiterates that there is no justification for such attacks, which may amount to war crimes, and that those who have organized and enabled this attack must be brought to justice. The Mission stands in solidarity with the people of Libya in resisting attempts to spread fear, intimidation and hatred. The UN is committed to a Libyan‑led political process that will strengthen a unified Libya and build trust and mutual understanding through peaceful and inclusive dialogue.
In Somalia, the United Nations and its partners expressed concern over today’s armed clashes near the Tukaraq area between Puntland and “Somaliland”. The UN is urgently calling for an immediate ceasefire from both sides and for the start of dialogue between military commanders on the ground. Our colleagues there noted that violence is taking place amid an already difficult humanitarian situation that has recently been aggravated by the impact of Tropical Cyclone Sagar, and the clashes only add to the suffering of the people in the area.
Our humanitarian colleagues and the Government in Ethiopia are today highlighting critical response priorities and funding gaps following a review of the humanitarian situation in the country. The gap analysis shows that $280.4 million is urgently required to ensure life‑saving response for the coming six months. Humanitarian partners are focusing on the need to further scale up response to over 1 million people displaced by conflict over the last 12 months. An upsurge in conflict since early September 2017 in the border areas of the Oromia and Somali regions came on top of two years of back‑to‑back drought. Overall, the Ethiopia Humanitarian and Disaster Resilience Plan seeks $1.66 billion and is currently 34 per cent funded.
Yesterday evening, Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, said in a statement that he is extremely concerned by recent developments in Yemen, where, over the past few weeks, we have seen an escalation in conflict, growing restrictions on humanitarian action and a reduction in essential commercial imports. He said that more than 22 million people in Yemen need humanitarian assistance or protection. Some 8.4 million people are severely food insecure and at risk of starvation. If conditions do not improve, a further 10 million people will fall into this category by the end of the year. Mr. Lowcock calls on the Government of Yemen, with the support of the Coalition, to take active steps to boost commercial imports of food, fuel and humanitarian supplies through all of Yemen’s ports. He also calls on the Government of Yemen to take steps to ensure that all public servants receive their salaries wherever they are in Yemen. And he urges all parties to engage meaningfully with the United Nations, without preconditions, to achieve a lasting, negotiated settlement towards sustainable peace.
**Central African Republic
I have something on the Central African Republic for you: our colleagues from the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) tell us that investigations are ongoing in Bria (in Haute Kotto prefecture) where, earlier today, UN police arrested an anti‑Balaka leader on suspicion of involvement in an attack on a Formed Police Unit patrol that resulted in the death of a peacekeeper in December last year. Meanwhile, the UN Mission reports that the situation is Bangui is calm today following violence on 23 May. The Central African Republic internal security forces are investigating the violence with the support of UN police. Also in the capital, the Mission reports that peacekeepers on Wednesday intervened and prevented the lynching of a family in the second district.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, welcomed the ruling issued unanimously in Guatemala against four high‑ranking former military officials for crimes against humanity, aggravated sexual violence and enforced disappearance. The case is known as the Molina Theissen case: in 1981, Emma Guadalupe Molina Theissen was detained at a military checkpoint and subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as well as sexual violence. She escaped, but her 14‑year‑old brother Marco Antonio was then taken by force from the family’s home in Guatemala City, and has never been found. The High Commissioner said the ruling was a milestone judgement for Guatemala and beyond with regards to the investigation, prosecution and punishment of serious human rights violations committed by senior military officials during an internal armed conflict. You can find more on this case on the High Commissioner’s website.
Today is Africa Day. In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General said that Africa is increasingly driving its own future and highlighted the relationship between the African Union and the UN. Over the past two years, both organizations have signed agreements on peace and security as well as the implementation of complementary development agendas, he said. The Secretary‑General stressed that what is good for Africa is good for the world, and called on all nations to support peace and prosperity in the continent. His full message is available online.
And for the Honour Roll: we have scored a century! Thanks to a payment from Myanmar, the Honour Roll has reached 100. So, are there any questions for me before we go to our guest? Yes, please.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you. Adam Klasfeld from Courthouse News. Just wanted to get the Security Council's feedback on three alarming reports out of the United States involving immigration policy yesterday. Yesterday, there was Senate testimony that US officials lost track of nearly 1,500 migrant children. There was another report from the American Civil Liberties Union that ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] has a reported intent to destroy abuse records and is trying to do that through NARA [National Archives and Record Administration] right now and there was another report about the new policy for separation of families. There's been some gripping reporting showing mothers wearing yellow bracelets and ripped away from their children. What has been the United Nations’ response to the developments on this forced family separation policy and the missing children?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you had asked about the Security Council and, of course, I don't speak for them, but regarding the Secretary‑General, what I can say is that he, once more, has made clear the need to treat all refugees and migrants with respect for their dignity. That is particularly true in the case of children who are, as you know, in an especially vulnerable position; and so, their concerns need to be listened to and respected by the authorities, particularly in cases where they may be isolated from their families. Yes?
Question: Thank you. Thank you, Stéphane. Uh… [laughs] I want to talk about the children situation in Gaza, Gaza where the… there are 61 people killed during this recent, what do you call, uprising over there, and the thing is the children are still, as you said earlier, the most vulnerable. What is the situation with the children and how many children are still incarcerated by the Israelis? Do you have any updated on that?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. As you may have noticed, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, briefed the Security Council just a few days ago and he included some information about the situation of children, and he made it clear, again, the need that, in their cases, they be promptly tried or else released. He spoke out against the sort of indefinite detention we have been seeing in different case, so I would urge you to look at his remarks.
Question: Do you have any figures on…?
Deputy Spokesman: The figures are similar to what I had told you about a week or so back, that it's a little over 200. Yes? Yes, please.
Question: Last week when the Secretary‑General had met with [Donald] Trump, did they discuss this migration policy, the US migration policy?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't have anything to add to the readout that we put out at the time.
Question: So you don't know if they discussed it or not?
Deputy Spokesman: We put it on our readout. That's as much as we’ve got.
Question: Can I ask about Yemen?
Deputy Spokesman: You can after someone else has had a chance. Yes?
Question: Good morning. Deepak Arora from the Tribune Online. As you are aware, India is the largest contributor to UN peacekeeping forces, but UN also owes the largest amount of money to India, so could you give us a status? How do you propose to give the dues to India and when?
Deputy Spokesman: The UN tries to pay off all of the peacekeeping contributors as promptly as we can. We get money through, as you know, through our various assessments and then… and then pay them to the respective Governments and that process continues, and so if there are any debts being incurred, we try to clear them as swiftly as we can. Yes, you?
Question: I wanted to ask you. I had asked Stéphane [Dujarric] about whether the Libya… the UN's envoy on Libya, Ghassan Salamé, had… as has been reported there, declined to speak with civilians in Derna, and I had wanted to ask you. It wasn't much in his briefing to the Security Council, and people there say that, in fact, the hospital has no more oxygen because of the siege laid. So what is… what is the UN's position on General [Khalifa] Haftar's siege? And number two, I've gone back and looked and it seems that Mr. Salamé, at least as of 2016, was on the advisory board of the UAE's [United Arab Emirates] Diplomatic Academy, where now Bernardino León, the former envoy, has a position, and I wanted to know. There's nothing since then and there's no… there's no Ghassan Salamé financial disclosure to… online, at least, to disclose his outside activities. Is he still affiliated with the UAE Diplomatic Academy, given that the UAE is supportive of General Haftar? And number two, what does it say… was this some kind of a problem, his affiliation with the UAE, given their influence in Libya, and position in Libya, positions on Libya?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, first of all, regarding what you said about Mr. Salamé and this report that he did not… that he refused to talk to Derna representatives, we've checked with the Mission. That report is false. Mr. Salamé and the Mission have been in touch with several people and entities from Derna and they are ready to speak to all Libyans. Regarding…
Question: Can you say which entities because the groups went on the record saying he wouldn't speak to them. Can you say which groups those are?
Deputy Spokesman: This is the information I have. And… but he has been in touch, and he continues to be open and available to talk to all the various parties, including in Derna. There's… we do not believe that there's any problems with any conflicts regarding Mr. Salamé. He was vetted during the course of his recruitment.
Question: Did he stop his position as being on the advisory board of the UAE Diplomatic Academy when he began working for the UN?
Deputy Spokesman: I'm… as far as I'm aware, there are no conflicts regarding his roles. Hold on. First Dulcie, and then you.
Question: Yeah, thanks. So Mark Lowcock's statement, are there any details when he says that conflict has actually increased? And are any of the ports open? Is the airport open in Sana'a? And has the UN started to use the $985 million that the Saudis gave about a month ago? Thanks.
Deputy Spokesman: We have started using that, including the money that has gone to the World Food Programme (WFP). Okay. All right, so we'll go… I see that our guest will be ready soon, so I'll go for one more quick round of questions. But yes, we are using the money, but there are tremendous problems in access. There's a very lengthy press release that Mr. Lowcock put out yesterday with some more details so I would encourage you to look at that. Yes?
Question: Thank you, just a follow‑up question to the one from earlier. Was the Secretary‑General apprised specifically of yesterday's testimony before the Senate of the missing estimated 1,500 migrant children. and follow‑up to that one would be have there been any international efforts to locate them?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, he is aware of these reports. Obviously, it's up to the authorities to follow up and we trust that they will do so thoroughly. Yes. Ibtisam.
Deputy Spokesman: No. Ibtisam. That's not you.
Question: Farhan, two questions. One, a follow‑up on Yemen. I know that you said that he issued a longer statement, but could you please say something about who is mainly responsible for not having the aid delivered? And to which extent the Coalition is cooperating with you? And on the second question on Gaza, which steps is… the Secretary‑General is taking actually to try to ease the siege, especially… despite the fact that the Egyptians are saying that they are opening or trying to open the border, there are very little number or the number is very limited of people who can cross the border? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. On the first question, as I pointed out just earlier, Mr. Lowcock has called on the Government of Yemen, with the support of the Coalition, to take active steps to boost commercial imports of food, fuel and humanitarian supplies through all Yemen's ports and wanted the Government of Yemen to also take steps to ensure that all public servants are paid. Regarding your question on Gaza, as Mr. Mladenov made clear a few days ago, we are encouraged by the Government of Egypt opening border crossings, as well as by the increased use of the Kerem Shalom crossing and we're trying to get as much activity through those points as possible. Yes?
Question: Sure, and could I just ask… obviously, we're interested in the Ebola thing, but can you take questions after that's done? Because there's more questions on Cyprus and Egypt.
Deputy Spokesman: Just get your questions now. We're doing them and then going to a guest.
Question: Okay. I heard you say that you were going to take one… let me ask you this. The UN's website now discloses an additional case of child rape by a civilian contractor of the UN in Mali, and I wanted to know… it doesn't… unlike for… for military personnel, it doesn't disclose, one the nationality, and two I guess… it's a pretty serious charge, and the Secretary‑General is obviously going there for the Day of the Peacekeepers, so I wanted to know what's the nationality of the contractor? How did the UN become aware of this? And what… in the serious instance of alleged child rape, what is the UN going to do about it?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't have the nationality to share with you. What I can say is that MINUSMA has received a report of sexual abuse involving a national civilian contractor, so this… I assume from that what the nationality is, but it says it involves a national civilian contractor. The allegations refer to the rape of a female minor, resulting in her pregnancy. The incident allegedly took place at an unspecified date in 2018. Ensuring the provision of assistance to the victims is our priority. The victim has been referred to UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] and an NGO [non‑governmental organization] partner for appropriate medical, psychosocial, and legal support. The Mission also stands ready to provide additional assistance as needed and the allegation is currently being investigated by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).
Question: If, in fact, the contractor is Malian and the victim is Malian, why wouldn't… why would not this be a criminal matter for actual prosecution in Mali? Is the person given immunity simply by being a UN contractor? What is it… like, for example, what was this person doing for the UN…?
Deputy Spokesman: You would have to ask the Malian authorities whether there's any criminal prosecution being followed up in that case. That is a matter between the contractor and the Government of Mali. I've given you the details on our side.
Question: But what was the contractor doing? You say he's a contractor, just to understand a little bit better how someone could get immunity for child rape, what services were their performing for the UN?
Deputy Spokesman: I didn't say that any… first of all, there's not immunity for crimes that are committed. Second of all, I didn't say that immunity was in play.
Question: Is it immunity from local prosecution? [Inaudible]… rape by the UN…
Deputy Spokesman: Again, you would have to ask… no, it's not by the UN. Like I said, it's by a national contractor. Second of all, you would have to check with the Malian authorities whether they are following up with criminal charges. Yes?
Question: Just a follow‑up on Yemen again, a follow‑up, meaning… has the Secretary‑General or anybody of higher authority had any conversation with the Saudi Coalition or the Saudi Government about stopping these attacks, which are still going on, whether you like it or not?
Deputy Spokesman: We have been in touch with the various authorities and again, I would urge you to look at what Mr. Lowcock says, where he has also remarks about the attacks and the actions by the Coalition. Yes?
Question: Deepak Arora again. There have been ups and downs between the summit between President Trump and Kim [Jong Un]. What is the Secretary‑General… is he thinking of… the Secretary‑General thinking of a role, so that this historical peace possibility is not lost?
Deputy Spokesman: We stand ready to be helpful as needed. The Secretary‑General made clear in his remarks yesterday that we'll all need to have nerves of steel, and he hopes that this process can go ahead and lead to progress on the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Yeah?
Question: Just a clarification on Yemen paying all the civil servants. Does that mean those under Houthi control in Sana'a?
Deputy Spokesman: Wherever they are located. All right, and now, let's go to our guest.