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

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

13 January 2016

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

**Security Council

The Secretary-General's Special Representative for Côte d'Ivoire briefed the Security Council on the situation in that country earlier this morning.  She said that the peaceful conclusion of the presidential elections provided the people of Côte d'Ivoire with the opportunity to start a new chapter in their country's history and consolidate the achievement towards long-term stability.

She added that the national authorities demonstrated their ability to assume responsibility for organizing and safeguarding the voting process.  Ms. Mindaoudou also added that the security situation in Côte d'Ivoire remained stable.  Given this, she said that the UN [Operation in Côte d'Ivoire] (UNOCI) was ready to further reduce its strength to 4,000 troops by the end of March this year.  She also said that a strategic review team will deploy in February to assess the further downsizing of the mission.

**Central African Republic

Turning to the [United Nations Integrated Stabilization] Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), it reports that the final provisional results for the legislative elections were announced yesterday by the Autorité Nationale des Elections (ANE), with 21 candidates, including three women, being elected by an absolute majority during the [first] round.  A second round of the legislative elections will be held in 113 constituencies.  Meanwhile, the Mission continues to reinforce security in Ouaka Prefecture, with illegal ex-Séléka barricades dismantled and several weapons seized.  In Dekoa, peacekeepers secured the release of one of two teachers who had been abducted. 

The Mission also reports that ex-combatants surrendered grenades and military uniforms in Bouar – that's in Nana Mambere Prefecture – this week within the framework of the pre-disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme.  The Mission also registered 22 new anti-Balaka fighters and collected a number of weapons in Bambari in Ouaka Prefecture.  The Mission continues its efforts to raise awareness and prevent sexual exploitation and abuse.  Yesterday, a team led by the Secretary-General's Special Representative, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, visited eight Formed Police Unit locations in Bangui and reiterated the UN's zero-tolerance policy towards sexual exploitation and abuse.

**Ethics and Development

The Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, addressed this morning a side event at the UN General Assembly on Ethics for Development.  He said that the fundamental principles that underpin the Sustainable Development Goals are interdependence, universality and solidarity, and they should be implemented by all segments of society working together.

No one must be left behind and people who are hardest to reach should be given priority, the Deputy-Secretary-General said.  He added that this means that we need to be ready to change how we work.  The United Nations system anticipates and hopes that Member States will apply the principles and values underlying the 2030 Agenda when they translate and integrate the new goals into their national planning.  His speech is available online and in my office.


I also want to flag that the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), Ertharin Cousin, will be in Zambia tomorrow for a three-day visit.  This visit comes at a time when drought and the global El Niño weather event are having a severe impact on southern Africa, particularly on small farm holders who account for most of the region's agricultural production.  If you are interested, go to WFP's website.

**Press Encounters

Tomorrow at 10 a.m., right here in this room, the co-chair of the Secretary-General's High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing, Kristalina Georgieva, will give a background briefing by video conference on the embargoed High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing Report.  And we have more information in my office; you can get copies of the report in my office as of today, if you are interested.  And the report will be launched over the weekend in Dubai, on Sunday.

And around noon… first of all at 11 a.m., the Secretary-General will present his priorities for 2016 in an informal meeting of the General Assembly – which will take place in the Trusteeship Council, I believe.  Afterwards, he is looking forward to speaking to you at the stakeout.  And he will be taking some questions. And since he will be taking questions, I will not be briefing.  But, that's tomorrow.  So, today, any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  My question's on Burundi and reports that are emerging of a lack of a cohesive response from the international community to what is happening in Burundi, you know, the role of Mr. [Jamal] Benomar, the lack of clarity on what the AU [African Union] is going to do in terms of sending peacekeepers or not, question marks around the ineffectiveness of Uganda's mediation efforts.  Where are we at in terms of Burundi?  What… the Security Council trip that is upcoming; there seems to be a lot of different moving parts that are allowing the Government to, in a sense, remain more entrenched in that country and in its position.  What do you say to reports that there's a lack of a cohesive response here?

Spokesman:  I think there are a number of moving parts from the United Nations, from the Secretariat, from the African Union, from the Security Council.  I think what is important is that the focus of all these moving parts is the same and find a way to end the violence that we're seeing in Burundi and prevent it from sliding into even more violence.  It's important that all the actors in the international community deliver the same message, and that is a message to the Government and to the opposition to participate in frank and open political dialogue to get the country back on track and away from the very… from the intense violence that we're seeing and from the threats to personal liberties and the harassment that we've been seeing almost on a daily basis in Burundi.

Question:  What does the UN make of [Yoweri] Museveni's interventions here?  This is a President that many people have been raising questions about, whether he has the moral authority, given the length of his tenure in office.  And can you also specifically speak to the role of Mr. Benomar?  Where is he?  What is he doing currently?

Spokesman:  Mr. Benomar is currently in New York.  He's had a number of meetings with other senior officials here.  He… a team from his office is being dispatched, [and] may already have arrived in Burundi, to be able to increase our presence on the ground, our political presence, our ability to analyse the situation and to move forward.  Our colleagues from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) are also present.  I know they're documenting a lot of what is going on.  As far as Mr. Museveni's effort, mandated by the East African community, I think it's important that all the countries in the region support the political process and deliver the same message on the need for political dialogue and the need for the violence to end.  With pleasure.

Question:  On Syria, is [Staffan] de Mistura… is Mr. de Mistura coming to New York?  Or…

Spokesman:  I do not believe he is coming to New York.  I think he will likely… I'm waiting for a confirmation, but I believe he'll be speaking to the Secretary‑General by phone to give a wrap‑up of the meetings he's had in the region and the meetings he's having here in… the meetings he's having in Geneva today.

Question:  Is there any progress regarding forming one group of the opposition to…?

Spokesman:  I think, obviously, those discussions are still going on.  Mr. de Mistura, as you know, is having a meeting with the P5 ambassadors in Geneva.  He's also meeting with senior Russian and American officials in a separate meeting.  As you know, the Russians and the Americans are the force behind the International Support Group on Syria.  I think all those discussions are still going.  And we remain focused on getting the political talks restarted a bit later this month.  Evelyn?  Oh, sorry.  Then Iftikhar.

Question:  Yes.  I was going to say, in the CAR [Central African Republic], are they… is it true that the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] troops are being taken out?

Spokesman:  Yes, I think we announced it a couple of days ago.

Correspondent:  Sorry.  I missed that.

Spokesman:  That's all right.  We've… following a number of inspection missions, pre‑deployment inspection missions, by our colleagues in DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], it was decided that the level of preparedness, the equipment, training and so forth of the troops, the DRC troops, about 800 of them, if I'm not mistaken, stationed in Bambari, were asked to be repatriated and will not be replaced by another contingent of soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Question:  Yeah, and there's a new report on sexual abuse.  Do you know what day you announced it or didn't you?

Spokesman:  A new report?

Correspondent:  At some… The Wall Street Journal has a reference to one.  In the CAR.

Spokesman:  I will check.  There is… the Secretary‑General's annual report on reporting on sexual abuse by peacekeeping missions, that is scheduled for early February.  As you know, this year, the Secretary‑General intends to list the names of the countries from which the troops who are accused come from.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.  Is there going to be a statement on the bombing near the Pakistani consulate in the city of Jalalabad?

Spokesman:  Obviously, I think we would condemn any attack… any bombing that we're seeing in Afghanistan.  And, as we've said, we've seen a spate of attacks in Afghanistan against diplomatic outposts, which are to be condemned.  Majeed?  And then we'll come back.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have a question about the situation in Iraq.  The Kurdish leadership reportedly, since earlier this month, they started preparation for a referendum for independence and separation from Iraq.  This has been raised before, this issue, but now it's coming back again strongly in Iraq.  What does the UN makes of that?

Spokesman:  Obviously, I think these are just reports at this point, so I have nothing specific to say except to say, obviously, that I think all these issues need to be dealt within a political framework and a constitutional framework in Iraq.

Question:  Has the UNAMI [United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq]… you heard anything from them?

Spokesman:  I will check with them to see if they have anything specific on that.  Nabil?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Does the SG [Secretary-General] consider using besiege on towns and cities in Syria a war crime, and, accordingly, is he working on certain proposals related to accountability or any… any shape of accountability on these crimes?

Spokesman:  It is clear that the intentional starvation of people through blockades, barricades, siege could very well constitute a war crime.  I think… and this is exactly what we're seeing in various parts of Syria today.  I think yesterday you received a very vivid briefing from Yacoub el Hillo on the situation in Madaya.  We are… more convoys are on their way to Madaya, to Foah and Kafraya in the coming days to deliver assistance.  It's incumbent on all the parties involved in this conflict to allow for the free flow of humanitarian aid to those who need it.  Humanitarian aid cannot be used for political reasons, cannot be stolen.  It needs to be given to those who need it.  Unfortunately, I think we've seen in the past the parties involved… various parties involved in this conflict not allow humanitarian aid to go through, and this… you know, this use of sieges as a tactic of war must stop.

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Say again, louder.

Question:  And on accountability?

Spokesman:  Well, the issue… obviously, the issue of accountability is a critical one in any conflict.  I think we've seen the very important work done by the Human Rights Commission of Inquiry on Syria, which has gathered information, and the time of accountability will come.  And all those who have committed crimes, war crimes or crimes… you know, grave violations of international law will have to be held accountable.

Question:  But, may I follow up, please?  Does the SG consider now that the priority should be given to the political efforts and political process, and accountability could be dealt with later?  Or…

Spokesman:  I think it's not… the issue of peace and justice are not mutually exclusive.  Both need to be reached at.  The timing may differ in different situations, but it's clearly not an either/or situation.  Linda?

Question:  Following up on this issue, we know that the… there were talks on the ceasefire, but given what you've said about there's been probably crimes against humanity committed by all sides, whether it's governments, opposition, Al‑Nusra, etc., do you think… I mean, is there any sense that perhaps referring the individuals to the ICC [International Criminal Court] might be waived during these talks?  In other words, what incentive is there for these leaders to want to make peace if they know that, in the next day or the next year, they'll be referred to the criminal court?

Spokesman:  I think the incentive is looking at the pictures of the suffering by… of the Syrian civilians that we're seeing – of men, of women and children in some cities in borderline starvation.  That should be the incentive to all of us towards a negotiated settlement.  The ICC, as you know, is its own independent body.  They will do whatever they need to do.  But, I don't think we would need further incentive to get to a peace process.

Correspondent:  I'm sorry.  I meant the leaders who will be participating…

Spokesman:  No, I understood…

Question:  And have they set… do you know if there have been any leaders making the condition that they would be…?

Spokesman:  No, I'm not privy or aware of the minutiae of the negotiations.  And probably I'm not made aware because they wouldn't want me to share them with you.  But, obviously, what happens behind… in the negotiation process will right now stay in the negotiating process.

Question:  Since food was… food supplies were provided to Kafraya, Foah and Madaya back in 19 October 2015, if my memory is… helps me here, why is it that in Madaya, there is starvation, whereas in Foah and Kafraya, we not hear any reports about starvation?

Spokesman:  I think we haven't… it's clear that the pictures and the images out of those other towns have not come forward.  It's important for us to get there and be able to see firsthand what has happened.  As I've said before, one convoy doesn't solve the problem.  Just because you had a convoy in October doesn't mean that by January people have… still have food.  They don't.  It's clear.  It… we're not talking… you know, we're… the UN, I think, as Yacoub said yesterday, spends a lot of time negotiating, whether it's with the Government, whether it's at every checkpoint.  I mean, he mentioned… from what I gather, what should have been in peacetime a one-hour drive took 12 hours, because of having to negotiate with armed men at, you know, every checkpoint to get through.  Security Council resolutions are clear.  The aid needs to get through unencumbered and unimpeded to those who need it.

Question:  The pictures of those who looked emaciated were mainly civilians.  Were there any similar pictures, I mean, from the people who went into Madaya of the armed groups who were fighting in the city?  Do they suffer from the same starvation, like the civilians?

Spokesman:  You know, I can't tell you what the status is of the… those who are fighting for armed groups.  What is clear is that we need to keep the focus on the more than 4.5 million Syrians who are living in either hard‑to‑reach or besieged town and the 400,000 who are living in Deir ez‑Zor, Daraya, Foah and Kafraya.  Evelyn?

Question:  Is there any update on the 400 who need urgent medical care in the hospital?

Spokesman:  No.

Question:  And is there any clue as to who is manning the checkpoints?

Spokesman:  I think Yacoub gave a very diplomatic answer when he said there were men in uniform with guns, and I won't second‑guess him, and I won't try to analyse who mans each checkpoint from here.

Correspondent:  Sorry.  Eventually, one has to have contact… con… this has to be put into who's stopping whom.  I know everybody's terrible, but we have to know who's terrible.

Spokesman:  The responsibility of all those involved in the conflict is clear as to what… as to their responsibility to letting armed… excuse me, as to their responsibility to letting humanitarian aid flow.  The UN, whether it's our colleagues at OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] on the ground, whether it's the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] or the Syrian Red Crescent, will negotiate with whomever they need to negotiate with to get the aid through.

Question:  Well, who are the "they"?

Spokesman:  As I said, I think I will leave it to Yacoub to deliver more information if he feels that would be helpful.  Nabil?

Question:  Follow‑up.  Well, I mean, obviously, you avoid giving names in general, and you talk about parties in general.  Don't you think that your message would be stronger and clearer if you mentioned names from… from all sides?  I'm not talking about one side only, especially in cases like these towns in Syria.

Spokesman:  You know, I think we have named names when it's been helpful.  We have talked to the Governments, raised issues with the Governments.  But, I think a few thousand miles away from the actual place, it is also… I could… I think I would be safe to say that it is sometimes not clear in these situations where there's a complete power vacuum who… a dozen armed men launching… you know, manning a checkpoint actually belong to, what group they may actually belong to, what faction they may actually belong to.  You know, are they there to harass and demand money?  Are they there as a political statement?  Our focus… the focus of our humanitarian colleagues is to get through the checkpoints and get the aid to where it's needed.

Question:  On Yemen, yeah?  There were some videos and reports that Al‑Qaida's mobilizing tanks and heavy armed vehicles to Mukalla Seaport in south Yemen.  How does… how does… I mean, how do they get such weapons, such very heavy vehicles?  And what does the Yemeni Government say about that?

Spokesman:  Well, last time checked… last time I checked, I get my paycheck from the UN and not the Yemeni Government, so I can't answer for them.  I don't have any specific information on how armed groups could get heavy weapons in.  What is clear is that the lack of political process continues to allow a power vacuum to expand in Yemen and allow terrorist and extremist groups to flourish.

Correspondent:  But, Mukalla is considered under the sovereignty and domain of the official Government there.

Spokesman:  I hear your question… I don't think I have anything else to add.

Correspondent:  And there's a blockade against Yemen as a whole.

Spokesman:  I appreciate your statement, Nizar.

Question:  There are some reports floating around the airwaves that Zimbabwe's President, Robert Mugabe, has had a severe heart attack, could be ailing.  Would the Secretary‑General have any view?  What's his relationship is like with the Zimbabwean President?

Spokesman:  No, but I will check on the health reports.  Yes, last question.

Question:  Last question, I want to come back to the issue of referendum.  Last week… last year in looking at the transcript, there was an… with the same issue, I asked you a question and you answered… you didn't give me actually an answer about this.  UN before also had… always had the support for the unity of Iraq, and now I'm hearing more neutral opinion about this.  Is my interpretation right, that UN doesn't have any…

Spokesman:  No, no.  Your interpretation is wrong.  If you asked me the same question a year ago, you could probably use the same answer I gave you a year ago.

Question:  No, a year ago, it was about the same issue of referendum.  And the answer was the same.  Now the possibility is real.  It's on the ground.  I know it's not… in mainstream media, it's not discussed that much, but the reports from the ground, there are preparations for…  Spokesman:  No.  I appreciate it, and I would not want you to interpret my answers the Sec… the UN lacking any support for the unity of Iraq.  Quite on the contrary.  Thank you.  See you tomorrow.  No, see you with the SG tomorrow.

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