Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
8 December 2015
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General met today in Paris with US Secretary of State John Kerry, and, speaking to the press afterward, the Secretary-General welcomed Mr. Kerry's initiative to hold the third meeting of the International Syria Support Group in New York on the 18th of December. If the talks are held then, he said that he and his Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, intend to participate.
The Secretary-General also underscored the necessity of having a nationwide ceasefire in Syria as soon as possible. And he added his hope that the talks in New York will provide a firm and solid basis so that the ceasefire and political process can begin.
Speaking of the climate change talks underway in Paris, the Secretary-General said that the political momentum has been growing day by day. With three and a half days to go, the Secretary-General hopes that the parties will accelerate the speed of their negotiations, so that by Friday evening, we will have a universal and robust climate change agreement.
He also spoke at a Global Compact Business Forum, telling business leaders that the collective momentum among the private sector for climate action is growing daily. Across the world, he said, businesses and investors are standing up for a strong agreement in Paris that sends the right market signals. They are asking for a clear message that the transition to cleaner, low emissions energy sources is necessary, inevitable, irreversible and beneficial.
The Secretary-General also held bilateral meetings with some of the delegations attending the Conference of the Parties, in his effort to ensure that momentum will be maintained.
He has recently arrived in Finland, where he will meet with Finnish officials tomorrow.
The Secretary-General's Special Representative for Central Africa, Abdoulaye Bathily, this morning updated the Security Council on the work of the UN regional office there.
He said that Boko Haram remained a critical threat to stability, peace and security in the region. He also said that while killings and attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army have diminished, the LRA still poses a threat, particularly to populations in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Mr. Bathily said that during the past months, the number of cases of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has increased and that in addition to the usual robbery activities, pirates have been committing acts of rape which he called a "new and disturbing phenomenon."
Finally, he noted that political tensions were mounting in Central Africa as several countries in the region enter an electoral cycle that will run up to 2018. He said that he would continue to use his good offices to encourage the peaceful resolution of disputes. His remarks are available in our office.
And this afternoon the Security Council will hold consultations on Western Sahara.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
A new UN report highlights a worrying clampdown on opposition, media and civil society in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since the beginning of the year. It also stresses the need to guarantee political and civil rights ahead of key elections.
The report, prepared by the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, documents human rights violations in relation to the electoral process between 1 January and 30 September 2015. It warns that the trend of restricting freedom of expression and violating the security of those taking a critical stance on the Government's actions indicates a shrinking of the democratic space likely to compromise the credibility of the electoral process.
In total, the report documents 143 human rights violations linked to the electoral process. After the violent repression of demonstrations by security forces in January 2015 which resulted in the extrajudicial killing of at least 20 people by State agents, a second wave of human rights violations started in July 2015. Threats, arbitrary arrests and detention have been targeting mostly media workers, members of civil society and political opponents.
Members of the Congolese National Police (PNC) and the National Intelligence Agency (Agence nationale de renseignements, ANR) are responsible for most of the human rights violations documented in the report.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, urged the Congolese authorities to ensure accountability for the very serious human rights violations documented in this report. And the report is available online.
**Central African Republic
The UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reports that earlier today the country's Constitutional Court approved the applications of 30 candidates to run in the Presidential elections scheduled for 27 December. The Court rejected 14 candidates, including former President François Bozize and anti-Balaka coordinator Edouard Ngaissona, for not meeting the necessary requirements.
Also, yesterday, the National Electoral Authority published a list of 406 incomplete candidacies for the legislative elections to give relevant candidates the opportunity to finalize their dossiers.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reports sporadic gunshots coming from different locations of Yambio town in Western Equatoria State last evening. Intense gunfire could be heard, once again, this morning at around 7 a.m. local time and has continued intermittently throughout the day. There is no information yet on casualties.
Peacekeepers from the Mission patrolled Yambio today to assess the security situation. They observed some houses burning, civilians moving out of the town as well as a large number of Sudan People's Liberation Army soldiers and South Sudan National Police Service officers patrolling.
The Mission reports that some 300 civilians, mostly women and children, have sought refuge in a non-governmental organization (NGO) compound adjacent to the Mission's base in Yambio.
UN Police are currently assisting in screening the displaced persons before they enter the NGO compound, while UNMISS military are providing security.
The President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, and the Secretary-General's Special Representative for the country, Nicholas Kay, today co-hosted the seventh High-Level Partnership Forum in Mogadishu.
The Forum reviewed overall progress over the past six months against the New Deal Somali Compact – which, as you may know, is the three-year action plan which articulates the country's priorities from 2014 to 2016.
The Forum also identified possible gaps and focused on what needs to be accomplished ahead of the Ministerial Forum to take place in Istanbul in February 2016.
And according to aid agencies in Somalia, people displaced from Gaalkacyo in Puntland State have started returning home following a local peace agreement signed on 2 December.
More than 90,000 people had fled Gaalkacyo to nearby villages over the past three weeks following the start of a conflict in November.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that an estimated 4.9 million people are in need of assistance, and 1.1 million people have been displaced around the country. And more information is available online.
The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, today said from Geneva that it is gravely concerned for some 12,000 people trying to flee Syria and stranded in remote areas at the north eastern Jordanian border, facing deteriorating humanitarian conditions. That group includes elderly people, others who are sick or wounded, children, women, and others who are vulnerable and need help. The number of people massing in the locations near the border has risen sharply since the start of November, from 4,000 to 12,000, following the recent intensification of conflict in Syria.
Meanwhile, the UN Refugee Agency also released today the results of a preliminary questionnaire of over 1,200 Syrian refugees who arrived in Greece between April and September. The sample is the largest set of data collected to date and offers insights into who these families are and why they are coming to Europe.
Among other things, UNHCR reports that, of those interviewed, 86 per cent had a high level of education, at secondary or university level. Almost a quarter were still searching for a family member missing in Syria, and one in five had been separated from one or more family members in that country. The majority – 63 per cent – had fled Syria during 2015, and 85 per cent had reached Greece on their first attempt. And over 62 per cent originated from Damascus and Aleppo, Syria's largest cities. There's more information on the Agency's website.
The World Health Organization (WHO) today launched a new comprehensive analysis of global health trends since 2000 and an assessment of the challenges for the next 15 years.
Called Health in 2015: from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the report identifies key drivers of progress in health since 2000.
It also lays out actions that countries and the international community should prioritize to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
In terms of achievements, the report says that the past 15 years witnessed major declines in child and maternal mortality as well as progress in the fight against HIV, Tuberculosis and malaria in developing countries. More information is available in WHO's website.
I just wanted to flag that, starting tomorrow, some 150 high-level representatives from more than 40 countries as well as from the Council of Europe, UN agencies, academia and NGOs will start a two-day meeting on "Ending Violence against Women" in Istanbul, Turkey.
The meeting is organized by UN-Women and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). As you know, this week also marks the end of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign on 10 December which is also Human Rights Day. More information is available on UN-Women's website.
And once I'm done with you, I will be joined for the noon briefing by Adama Dieng, the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. He will brief on the new International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide, which is to take place tomorrow.
And at 11:30 a.m., in this room, there will be a press conference by the Permanent Mission of Ukraine tomorrow on the presentation of a report on the human rights situation in that country.
**Questions and Answers
And that's it for me. Yes. Sylviane?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Do you have any readout about the discussion focused on… between Sigrid Kaag and Prime Minister Tamam [Salam] today focused on the upcoming launch of the Lebanese crisis response plan for 2016, who contained an appeal for over 2.4 billion? Do you have… for humanitarian and the development and their area?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, Ms. Kaag did meet Tamam Salam, and that is a discussion in advance of this humanitarian response plan. There's also a press release from her office, which I can share with you after the briefing. Yes?
Question: Farhan, since they have now agreed on the 18th as a… for Syria talks and since the Secretary‑General has publicly said that he wants to see a nationwide ceasefire in Syria, is the United Nations prepared now to… to have a… some kind of monitoring regime in Syria? Because as is… this is called by one of the Vienna talks. And I have another question on North Korea. The Security Council is going to address the human rights situation in North Korea. I wonder whether the Secretary‑General has anything to say now about human rights in North Korea. Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, first of all, on your first question on the possibility of a ceasefire in Syria, you heard what the Secretary‑General had to say. He said today that it's very clear, as was agreed in Vienna, that it's important for there to be a ceasefire coming in. And so our hope is that you will have a ceasefire very shortly as a result of this particular process. Obviously, there's a need for ceasefire monitoring. That's something that we're trying to work out. And there may even be some further meetings later on down this week to see ways to improve a mechanism on the ground that would make sure that the ceasefire is holding. But different ideas are being developed, and we're in touch with our various partners to make sure that we can get a good and workable ceasefire mechanism going. Regarding the Democratic…
Question: Just… just a follow‑up on that…
Deputy Spokesman: Wait, so I can complete my train of thought, and then we'll go back to you. As for your second question on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), we're aware that the Security Council has scheduled a meeting for Thursday. If there's any need for the United Nations Secretariat to provide a briefing or otherwise participate, of course, we're prepared to do so.
Question: Just a follow‑up. Are there any contingency plans for deploying monitors in Syria just in case there is a ceasefire?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I don't… there's nothing explicit to say about what the plans are at this stage. Like I said, they're being developed, and I expect that they may be developed and fleshed out further even over the course of the coming days or the next couple of weeks. It's important to make sure that there is an effective mechanism in place, but you will be aware, from the experience that we had of the UN mission in Syria that was in place in the summer of 2012, the challenges that they face on the ground. So, drawing from the lessons we learned from that experience, we'll need to see what can be done along with other key partners to make sure that we've got a good mechanism. Yes, Majeed?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. With regard to the deployment of Turkish troops in Iraq, have you received any complaint from Iraq about this, and does the Secretary‑General has anything to say about the situation?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. The Secretariat is expected to report to the Security Council on the presence of Turkish troops in Northern Iraq, specifically in the vicinity of Mosul. The UN has done its utmost to establish the facts to the extent possible, notwithstanding the limited UN presence in the areas concerned and the difficult security environment. At this stage, we understand that Turkish and Iraqi officials at the highest levels are currently in close contact with each other in an effort to defuse tensions and, of course, the United Nations encourages both sides to resolve this issue bilaterally through constructive dialogue.
Question: Follow‑up on that?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes.
Question: Does that mean you received any complaint or the Secretariat been in contact with Iraqi authorities?
Deputy Spokesman: We are in touch with the parties, including those in the Government of Iraq, yes. Yes, Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Could you give us more details about the meeting on Yemeni dialogue on the 15th and what will happen next, and what… what are the points that on the table for discussion? They said they were going to start with ceasefire. What is next? Can you give us some details?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, our colleagues in Switzerland have shared some of the details. They have informed the press that there will be probably a photo op at the start of that, on 15 December. However, the meeting itself, which is taking place in Switzerland under the chairmanship of Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, will be held at an undisclosed location. Consequently, there will be no press attendance at those, but the spokesman for Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed will try to provide periodic updates of what transpires in the talks. Regarding what the talks themselves entail, I would just refer you to the press conference provided by Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed yesterday in Geneva. The transcript of that is available on the website of the UN office in Geneva. Yes?
Question: Sure. I want to actually… to follow up on that, I'd asked you about these ground rules that had come out from Ould Cheikh Ahmed, including the lack of press coverage but also informing both the Hadi, Houthi and the other side not to talk to the media. Can you… I'm… now that talks are on, I'm going to ask, is that Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed's request to the parties?
Deputy Spokesman: What I can say is that the parties themselves have agreed on the format for these discussions, and they've agreed that, for the time being, there will be no press presence at the site, which will, like I said, not be a disclosed location.
Question: On South Sudan, could I ask?
Deputy Spokesman: There's someone else before you. Yes?
Question: Thank you. Farhan, as you mentioned, Ms. [Kyung-wha] Kang making statement yesterday, and she says air bombardment and ground operations in northern part of the Syria, forcing people to flee the country and disrupt the humanitarian operations. Do you know how many people affected on that and what Secretary‑General is doing to solve this issue?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as I just mentioned a few minutes ago, our colleagues in the UN Refugee Agency said that, actually, there are some 12,000 people who were trying to flee Syria who were stranded in the… near the northeastern Jordanian border and is very concerned about their fate. These are people who are fleeing from the intensified fighting. And, like I mentioned yesterday, the Assistant Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs, Kyung‑wha Kang, had also raised attention to their plight. We're aware that Jordan has been very helpful in trying to deal with the question of Syrian refugees, and we hope that the situation of these people can be resolved. Oleg?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. We've been talking a number of times about the crackdown on journalists in Turkey, and there was a latest incident; a Russian TV crew was detained near the border of Syria. There was filming something. And this seems to be like a latest incident of escalation between Russia and Turkey. Has Ban Ki‑moon personally or by phone calls contacted the leaders of the countries, called them for restraint? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you'll have seen what we've said from this podium about this since the situation started a couple weeks back. And, of course, we do hope that this will be resolved between the parties, but regarding anything that restricts the freedom of movement of the press, of course, you're well aware of our concerns about that and our call on all parties and all governments to make sure that reporters are able to go about their work without any harassment. Yes, Emoke?
Question: Thank you. I know that Melissa Fleming has already commented on this in Geneva, but does the Secretary‑General have any comment on remarks made by U.S. presidential hopeful Donald Trump yesterday saying that all Muslims should be barred from entering the United States?
Deputy Spokesman: Without getting into the rhetoric of a political campaign, because, of course, all political campaigns in all countries have a fair amount of rhetoric, of course, you're aware of the Secretary‑General's longstanding concerns against all forms of xenophobia and all forms of sentiment against migrants or groups on the basis of race or religion. And that would certainly apply in this case. Obviously, we're aware that different political campaigns have their own dynamics, but at the same time, we do not believe that any kind of rhetoric that relies on Islamophobia, xenophobia – any other appeal to hate any groups – really should be followed by anyone. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask about South Sudan, then something closer to home here. Thanks for the readout on Yambio. I guess I'd wanted to ask you, I've seen the situation rep… report, and it says that they believe that this fighting was started by… when local authorities attempted to arrest three local youths. But I've also heard that it was former Yambio commissioner Angelo Bakote that was arrested. I'm wondering, is… I mean, in these reports that you give, is what triggered the violence and whether the violence is still ongoing… I've also heard there's still heavy gunfire, at least as of a half an hour ago, right outside of Yambio. So what is the UN's role? It's good that you report it, but was this violence triggered by an attempt to arrest on… some people believe on a political basis a former commissioner of Yambio by the Government?
Deputy Spokesman: First of all, I'd caution against reading too much into situation reports, many of which are compendiums of different types of reports from the ground, of different degrees of reliability. Some may be media accounts. Some may be from other local sources. What we report from here is what we can get as verified information from the UN Mission. So… but beyond that, of course, the Mission is functioning on the ground in terms of protecting people. As you know, they're… as I just mentioned, they're providing security for people who are trying to get into a nongovernmental organisation compound in Yambio, and the police there are also providing… are helping with the screening for people trying to gain access into that camp. This is part and parcel of the many functions that the UN Mission has done. As you know, for… since the start of this crisis, for about two years now, this is a Mission that has been providing protection to well over 100,000 people and oftentimes much more than that at its various bases while at the same time conducting the normal activities of a UN peacekeeping mission, whether it be patrolling or contact with parties to make sure that situations are resolved on the ground.
Question: As in other peacekeeping missions, does it co… you know, have a human rights reporting function? That's my… I guess my question is, it seems like in this instance, particular instance, just taking this one, that the trigger of the violence seems to be… [Cross talk]
Deputy Spokesman: The mission has reported on human rights, and it continues to do so. Yes?
Question: Thank you. The last statement issued by the Secretary‑General on Palestine and Israel was on 13 November. From that day until now, an average of two Palestinians a day are being killed. So the number had exceeded 110 so… and business as usual as long as the Palestinians are killed. The statement he issued on 13 when three Israelis were killed. Now… that is one… why he is silent. And second, there are 15 bodies of Palestinian killed held by Israel, which is the most… it's a violation of any kind of decency, to get those bodies back to the families who are being… you know, waiting for their loved one to bury them at least. Why there is no just indication or any kind of reference to those 15 young people who were killed and their bodies are being held by Israel?
Deputy Spokesman: First of all, I would like to point out that I disagree with your assessment. We issue statements on a variety of different circumstances. In this case, we have issued statements following the deaths of Israelis, but we've also issued statements following the deaths of Palestinians. I know first-hand, from criticism I get from different sectors of the press and from different missions, that neither party is perfectly happy with how we go about this, but we try to represent fairly the perspective of all sides. Having said that, as you're aware, beyond the statements, we also have regular briefings including periodic briefings that are essentially happening every month at the Security Council. As you know, there was one just a couple of weeks back on the situation, and we do expect that we'll have another periodic briefing later this month. And during that, we also provide the latest figures on the violence on the ground. The concerns that the Secretary‑General has had about the violence, whether it is in the form of increased stabbing attacks, whether it is in the form of rockets or other violence against the Israelis, or whether it's in the form of Palestinians being killed, either by security forces or otherwise, he's been very clear about his criticisms of all these actions and his hope that all the violence and all incitement will be put to an end and that the parties will return to talks with each other. Yes, Oleg?
Question: Who will be briefing the Security Council on the Turkish presence in Iraq today? Is it going to be Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman?
Deputy Spokesman: Like I said, it's a briefing from the Secretariat. I don't know whether we've determined yet who that will be. [He later said it would be Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenča.] Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, in the area just between, I guess you could say, the conference building and the temporary North Lawn Building, there were about a dozen or more trees that were… were unceremoniously sawed down over the weekend, not only against the wall, but the whole ivy‑covered region between one and the other. So a number people have said it's pretty abrupt. It's the kind of thing that, like… at least in… and the rest of New York City requires an environmental impact statement. Why were they torn down? And what's the… how is it consistent with the various environmental statements made by the UN?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, first of all, whenever we have any sort of activities reorganising at the site, which entails things like the chopping of trees, we try to make sure that we also then do some sort of seed planting to make sure that everything is done sustainably. So we would do that in this case. I don't have anything specific about…
Correspondent: There's like 24 stumps.
Deputy Spokesman: I don't have anything specific about this. It's probably part of the regular maintenance that's done. Yes?
Question: Central African Republic. France has started to interview some of the suspects in the abuse accusations. Do you have any update on that, or have they consulted with the Secretary‑General's Office?
Deputy Spokesman: No, this is an action taken by the French judicial authorities, and we hope that that will be in line with pursuing accountability, which is something that's very key. Beyond that, our work on this proceeds. And with that, let me…
Correspondent: I have another question.
Deputy Spokesman: No, sorry, it's time for our guest. Let me get to Adama Dieng. He's been waiting.
Question: AIDS‑Free World said it's an all‑male panel on Human Rights Day. What's your response?
Deputy Spokesman: I'm sorry, all‑male panel?
Correspondent: AIDS‑Free World says in an open letter to the Secretary‑General…
Deputy Spokesman: No, on that, we tried to have other guests for… who are women for the Human Rights Day panel, but some of them were not able to attend at the last moment. Thanks.
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