Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
5 January 2016
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
I will start off with a statement by the Secretary-General on the situation in Lebanon and Israel.
The Secretary-General condemns yesterday's attack against two vehicles of the Israel Defense Forces, in the general area of the Sheba'a Farms, south of the Blue Line, which was claimed by Hizbullah. The Secretary-General expresses his concern at the retaliatory strikes by the Israel Defense Forces across the Blue Line in southern Lebanon, in the area of operations of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
UNIFIL and the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Sigrid Kaag, have taken immediate steps through contacts with the parties to help restore calm in the area. UNIFIL is investigating the circumstances of the incident in cooperation with the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces. The Secretary-General calls on all parties to maintain the cessation of hostilities and to ensure full respect for Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).
That full statement should be available online.
Turning to Yemen, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in Geneva today that the ongoing armed conflict in Yemen continues to take a terrible toll on civilians, with at least 81 civilians reportedly killed and 109 injured in December. This raises the toll of civilian casualties recorded between 26 March and 31 December 2015 to more than 8,000 people, including nearly 2,800 killed and more than 5,300 wounded.
During the month of December, the Human Rights Office said that at least 62 civilians were reported to have been killed by airstrikes attributed to the coalition forces. Airstrikes have continued into the New Year, with around 11 strikes taking place in the capital, Sana'a, on Sunday and Monday. And the Office of the High Commissioner has also received alarming information on the alleged use of cluster bombs by coalition forces in Hajjah Governorate.
The Human Rights Office remains particularly concerned at the humanitarian situation in Taizz. The city has been the scene of violent clashes for more than eight months, virtually without interruption. More information available from the Office of the High Commissioner.
Regarding Syria, I wanted to flag that the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, met today in Riyadh with Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, and the High Negotiation Commission of the Revolutionary Forces and the Syrian Opposition.
Mr. de Mistura said after his meeting that there is a clear determination on the Saudi side that the current regional tensions will not have any negative impact on the Vienna momentum and on the continuation of the political process that the UN, together with the International Syria Support Group, intend to start in Geneva soon. Mr. de Mistura added that we cannot afford to lose this momentum, despite what is going on in the region.
Also, just to add that the Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Sigrid Kaag, also arrived in Riyadh. And she met today with senior officials, including the Foreign Minister and the Deputy Foreign Minister. This is part of her ongoing consultations with regional stakeholders to discuss Lebanon's stability and security, as well as efforts to support Lebanon's critical humanitarian and developmental needs.
Back here, the Security Council just heard from the acting High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Kim Won-soo, on the recent report transmitted by the head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria. That report is now also available publicly.
On Iraq, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, has condemned the attacks which took placed against three Sunni mosques in Babylon Province on the evening of 3 January, as well as other acts of violence.
In a statement issued yesterday evening, he said that these attacks are an attempt to stoke sectarian tensions in Iraq and the region. In this regard, he recalled the Secretary-General's appeal for calm and restraint following the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
Mr. Kubiš urged all Iraqis to demonstrate their commitment to the unity and solidarity of Iraq and its people and to show restraint, including in their statements.
**Central African Republic
I wanted to flag and share with you a statement issued a few minutes ago by the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).
It says that the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Central African Republic is investigating new allegations concerning both sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) and other misconduct by UN peacekeepers in Bangui.
The Head of the Mission, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, and the Force Commander today met with members of MINUSCA's Military and Police in the Central African Republic's capital.
The Special Representative reiterated the Mission's unwavering commitment to the Secretary-General's Zero Tolerance policy and reminded them that there will be no complacency for perpetrators or accomplices of such crimes, which traumatize the life of vulnerable people and which also tarnish the peacekeepers' identity, the honour of their country and the UN flag.
He also announced ongoing discussions with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to carry out joint actions as part of the reinforcement of the UN Mission's ability to combat sexual exploitation and abuse. Other upcoming measures include the establishment of a Police-Force joint brigade to identify sexual [exploitation and] abuse perpetrators and deter the occurrence of new cases.
He underlined the need to conduct patrols in the IDP (internally displaced people) camps, in close collaboration with the Central African Republic's internal security forces. He also renewed his commitment to protect whistle-blowers.
The Mission continues to investigate each and every allegation of misconduct. A fact-finding mission is currently underway in this regard. The National Authorities have been informed in Bangui and the troop-contributing countries in question have been informed officially in New York. Mr. Onanga-Anyanga calls on them to conduct their own national investigative processes immediately. The UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) will also be involved as appropriate.
The entire UN family is collaborating in addressing sexual exploitation and abuse in the broader context of upholding the highest standard of conduct and discipline within the organization.
Over the past week, UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) staff from the office in Bangui have undertaken four visits to meet with four alleged victims. UNICEF is working with a local partner to help the girls receive medical care, and is assessing their psychosocial needs. The girls were also provided with clothes, shoes and hygiene kits.
That statement should be online on MINUSCA's website.
From Haiti, I also want to flag a statement issued yesterday by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the country, Sandra Honoré, and the other members of the international community in Haiti represented in the so-called "Core Group" – that is, Brazil, Canada, France, Spain, the United States, the European Union, as well as the Organization of American States.
In that statement, the Core Group members acknowledged the efforts aimed at enhancing the credibility and transparency of the ongoing electoral process.
They urge all State institutions and political actors alike to take steps necessary to ensure a peaceful transfer of power to a newly-elected President by the constitutionally mandated date of 7 February. You can find that statement on the Mission's website.
Yesterday, I was asked by one of your colleagues about an attack at the Pathankot air base in India.
What I can say is that the Secretary-General condemns the terrorist attack at the Pathankot air base in India. He is aware that the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan had a phone conversation today to discuss this issue. The Secretary-General encourages both countries to build on recent high-level exchanges to address all outstanding issues through dialogue.
A senior appointment to announce today: the Secretary-General is announcing today the appointment of Karen AbuZayd of the United States as his Special Adviser on the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, to be held in the General Assembly in September 2016.
The Special Adviser will work with United Nations entities and undertake consultations with Member States and others in the lead-up to the Summit. This will include overseeing the Secretary-General's report on large movements of refugees and migrants that is scheduled to be submitted to the General Assembly in May 2016.
Ms. AbuZayd has extensive UN experience in humanitarian and human rights work in numerous countries, notably as Head of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) for a number of years. Copies of her bio are available in my office.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. At the end of December, the Secretary‑General welcomed the resumption of peace talks among the parties in Burundi. And now…
Spokesman: I'm sorry. In where? I didn't hear you.
Spokesman: Burundi. Thank you.
Question: Now, the Foreign Ministry of Burundi says that they are not going to go to Tanzania for the peace talks. Is the Secretary‑General concerned?
Spokesman: Well, we're… we've seen these press reports. We haven't had any direct… we haven't… I have not received any direct information. Obviously, the Secretary‑General remains very much concerned at the ongoing lack of political progress in Burundi and the violence that we keep seeing. Mr. [Jamal] Benomar, his Special Adviser, is scheduled to brief the Security Council, I believe, this week, and a report is also due in the next few days on his work. And so we shall know a bit more then. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Some other questions about… I mean, the President of the Security Council yesterday said it's not on the agenda, Burundi. Just FYI.
Question: But I wanted to ask but CAR, since you have this new report. One, I guess I'd like to… since Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous is briefing the Security Council today about CAR and has yet to answer any questions on the CAR sexual abuse allegations report… I guess it's a timely request… can he do a stakeout, take questions on it? Because it seems like Babacar Gaye was fired, but the problems go on. So this is a request. It seems like a reasonable one. What I wanted to ask is, I was surprised you didn't have a statement on the allegations of electoral fraud by the majority of candidates there. What is the UN's position on whether as they request the balloting should be halted to investigate these fraud allegations?
Spokesman: Obviously, it's important that all those who have issues on how the elections are ongoing currently and the counting is ongoing and if there are any reports of fraud that they be taken up through the national electoral authority, which is responsible for the elections, and that any complaints that people have should go through the normal judicial processes.
Question: But I guess I'm just saying… most of these candidates… and it is the majority of candidates… they're saying that the halting is the way to forestall physical violence. And I wonder, if the UN… the UN is there and their job… [cross talk]
Spokesman: As I said, we're there in support of the authorities in the Central African Republic, and it is incumbent on those authorities to make those decisions, notably on the National Electoral Authority. Carole?
Question: Stéphane, just on Syria, to follow up on the statement earlier, this clear determination on the Saudi side to press on, what does that mean in terms of the target date of 25 January? Does that mean…
Spokesman: I have not heard that there's been any change in that. Abdelhamid.
Question: Thank you, and happy New Year, Stéphane.
Spokesman: And to you, my friend.
Question: I have few questions, and, first, if there's any comment by the Secretary‑General on the resignation of Makarim Wibisono, the Special Rapporteur on human rights violation in the occupied Palestinian territories. There was no statement. Normally, he does give a statement if a senior official like that, under pressure and frustration, resigns.
Spokesman: My recollection is that normally we do not do a statement if a Special Rapporteur resigns as, as you know, they're independent of the Secretary‑General. However, I will say this. We've seen the statements made by the Special Rapporteur, and the Secretary‑General has repeatedly, in many countries that he's visited, made it abundantly clear that it is important for every Member State to cooperate and to work with the human rights mechanisms, including the Special Rapporteurs, and that Special Rapporteurs be allowed to visit in their official capacity in places they need to visit in order to fulfil their mandate, and that remains his position.
Question: Can I…
Spokesman: You may ask a second one since it's…
Question: My second question is: Sheba'a Farms is officially treated by the UN as occupied territories. Right? So if there is foreign soldiers or occupying forces in those territories and the indigenous people attack those forces, is that legal or it is… it deserves to be condemned, as the statement you just read?
Spokesman: You know, I think what the relevant Security Council resolution and the work of UNIFIL and the work of the political coordinator in the UN has been to find a political solution to the issue surrounding the Blue Line, and our focus is to ensure that there is no flare‑up of violence. Majeed? We'll still go to Round 1.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I want to… I have two questions about Syria. The first one is about the ongoing process of putting together a peace talk by the end of this month. And there's the issue of… of… of including… of the Kurdish group, UID specifically, in those negotiations. So far they have not been included by the opposition. And we haven't heard the UN's position about this, about the inclusion of minorities in those talks.
Spokesman: I think exactly which group get… will participate in those talks is a… discussions that are being had within the International Support Group for Syria, but it is important that as many voices as possible, the wide… the different cultures and minorities and religion groups that exist in Syria be represented at the talks, but those details are being worked out within the International Support Group at this time.
Question: And my second question, today in the Security Council, there's a closed meeting about the Turkey‑Syria border issue, and Mr. Jeffrey Feltman will have a briefing. From what you know, do you think he will add anything new to what's already not in the Al‑Qaida sanction committee reports about those issues?
Spokesman: I don't know. Let's wait for him to brief and see what I can share with you. Evelyn and then Carole?
Question: Thanks, Steph. The cluster bombs in Yemen, who released them? I know Saudi was accused earlier in the year, but the new ones, do they come from the coalition or from the Houthis?
Spokesman: It's clear from what I've just said that the information the Human Rights Office has is they come from the coalition.
Question: Okay. Now I… I'm sorry.
Spokesman: That's okay. Yeah?
Question: The second question is: when did the new sexual abuse incidents occur in CAR?
Spokesman: They've… over the last… we were made aware of them yesterday, but they've come over a period of time. We're still trying to get the exact dates, and the incidents themselves are still being investigated.
Question: Yeah, that was my question also. So it's three girls and how many troops? The allegations target how many troops, and where are they from? And this was in Bangui, if I understood correctly? And over a long…
Spokesman: This was in Bangui. The four… UNICEF has been in contact with four girls.
Question: Four girls.
Spokesman: But obviously, we're still trying to gather more details as to exactly what happened and how many people were involved.
Question: How did you become aware of the…
Spokesman: We were informed by the… UNICEF was informed, and the peacekeeping mission was… were informed through its contacts in Bangui.
Question: On the same topic, so the girls were underage, right? I'm assuming.
Spokesman: They were clearly minors, yes.
Question: And how many TCC's (troop-contributing countries) have been informed here?
Spokesman: A number of TCC's have been informed. I can't tell… I can't give you at this point the exact number.
Question: More than one.
Spokesman: More than one. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I want to ask about a trial and then some questions on Burundi. You… you… I would assume that you've seen that the businessman Ng Lap Seng, who stands to be put on trial for having, among other things, purchased documents from the Secretariat, is the way I'd phrase it, through the John Ashe case, has asked to have his case severed and delayed. He's no longer asking for a speedy trial. I wanted to know if you have any comment and if the UN Secretariat had… or its UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) office of South‑South Cooperation have been contacted or are cooperating in any way with these various trials.
Spokesman: No, I'm not aware of any contacts. We can ask the South‑South office.
Question: And I guess… it was said, when this first came up, that the director of the South‑South office was new and that's why he never came forward to… to talk about what these serious charges mean for his office. Is he now less new? Can he come forward?
Spokesman: I'm sure he's less new by the day; each day and every day we get older and we get less new. That's the laws of physics and biology, which we can't fight. You're welcome to get in touch with his office.
Question: I have. I want to emphasise to you that a simple document, a supposedly public document, they signed with Dominica has yet to be released, so…
Spokesman: Okay. Mr. Abbadi and then Go, because you haven't had a chance.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The Secretary‑General has made high senior level appointment, and he's continuing to make them one year before he leaves office. Is he concerned that his next… the next Secretary‑General, whether it's a man or a woman, will find themselves… their hands tied up by contractual arrangement?
Spokesman: No. I don't believe so. First of all, the appointment we just named today was really for an event this year, so that really only works for this Secretary‑General. Obviously, the UN needs to keep running, and more importantly… and I hope I'm not wrong on this fact… the heads of departments, Under-Secretaries‑General, do serve, and the Secretariats serve, at the pleasure of the Secretary‑General. So one would expect, as it happens often when there's a new Secretary‑General, there is a change, that Secretary‑General has the authority to change senior leadership within the Secretariat. Go?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Regarding this meeting on Syria in Geneva on 25 January, do you… will you call that as Geneva III? And also, after almost two years of Geneva II, Geneva II was held first in Montreux and then to… at the United Nations in Geneva. Do you have any sense…
Spokesman: I think we're really focusing on the meeting… on the outcome of the meeting more than the labels, and obviously, this is a clear… the meetings will take place because of what happened in Vienna and the momentum that was carried through Vienna. So we're not labelling it as… in the use… in the terms you used. Mr. Lee? Oh, sorry, Abdelhamid. You had… still on round 2 before we go to round 3.
Question: Thank you. Yesterday, in one of our answers, you used the word "deplore" – quoting the Secretary‑General at the shooting incidents in Tel Aviv and killing two Israeli soldiers. I wonder if the SG knows the background about it when… who did that incident, that he was mentally troubled. He served five years in jail, and he… in many cases, his family called the police for him. But at the same time, during this period, at one day, four Palestinians were killed. And the total number now reaches about 148, if I'm not wrong. Maybe today there was one Palestinian killed. However, the word "deplore," we never heard it from the Secretary‑General in the last two, three weeks about the ongoing killing of Palestinian civilians.
Spokesman: You know, I think you and I have been around the block a number of times on this issue. I think the Secretary‑General has spoken out firmly and strongly when civilians died. I would refer you back to previous statements he's made and to the periodic briefings that are given to the Security Council, which I think do not put in question the value he places on the lives of civilians. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. I wanted to ask, over the break, I guess, I'd asked in writing a couple of times about fighting in Pibor in South Sudan. Seems to be something that the UN, at least according to documents that they produced, knows about. And it seems that also there's been continued fighting on 4 January. What is the UN doing to protect civilians in this place that has, you know, previously had a pretty serious mass killing event, Pibor in Jonglei State?
Spokesman: On Pibor, the Mission reports that sustained gunfire took place earlier, which was… what day are we today?
Question: Tuesday, 5th.
Spokesman: The 5th. Yesterday, on the 4th, in Jonglei State. The Mission is receiving reports that fighting took place between Lango and Bototh groups, two different ethnic groups. The UN separately reports that tensions between South Sudan Democratic Movement/Army‑Cobra Factions and the Sudan People's Liberation Army have decreased in Pibor over the weekend. UNMISS (United Nations Mission in South Sudan) observed a limited number of open shops in Pibor yesterday. Majeed?
Question: Yes, thank you, Stéphane. Yesterday, you sounded so sure when you said that the tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran will not impact the peace process in Syria and in Yemen. Can you elaborate more how you reached that conclusion? And what… was that assurances that was given by the Foreign Ministers to the Secretary‑General?
Spokesman: I'm not sure… I'm not sure your interpretation of my sentiments… I don't know I sounded so sure. I think we underscore the importance of creating a firewall, in a sense, and ensuring that both the Syrian track, which I think, looking at what Mr. de Mistura said after his meeting with the Saudi Foreign Minister, I think we are hopeful that those… the tensions will not bleed over into that, and we're very hopeful… we very much would like to see the same on the Yemen track. Ismail Ould [Cheikh] Ahmed is going to be in Riyadh, I believe, tomorrow to have his own consultations with the Saudis and others in Riyadh and then travel on to the region. And I think, looking just today at the statements from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, at the huge number of dead we're seeing in Yemen or the suffering, that I think all the parties who have an influence over the people who are doing the fighting have a responsibility to do whatever they can to ensure that a political process continues. Mr. Lee?
Question: Great. Just on Burundi, I wanted to ask one… the particular… I mean, obviously, there have been a lot of deaths, but there's been a pretty prominent singer there who's sung against the third term and is well known, named Lisuba, who was killed over the weekend in Musaga by the police. And his parent… it's on RFI. The family says he was basically killed for his beliefs. Is that something that the… either the Secretariat or the Office of the High Commissioner's office in Burundi is able to validate…?
Spokesman: If I get something on that, I will let you know.
Question: Okay. And this is an internal thing on Burundi. This goes back to Mr. Baratuza. I've now seen a document in which his… I guess it… he didn't get the job. The military public information officer post it said is allocated to Burundi and they've… and DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) has asked for an Adolf Manzi Rukiza to be extended six months to do it. What I want to know is, a lot of people in Burundi see these documents, and they notice that the rank that the people are given by the UN, it does not correspond to what they have in Burundi, and they see this as some… as another kind of laundering of these abusers. Can you answer this?
Spokesman: Obviously, you get to see these documents. The people in Burundi get to see these documents. I haven't seen these documents.
Question: It's signed by DPKO.
Spokesman: I'm not arguing about the veracity of the documents. If I have any update on human resources in DPKO, I will share them with you. Thank you.
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