Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
17 February 2016
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Noon Briefing Guests
Hi, good afternoon. In a short while, I will be joined by Robert Glasser, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction. You know he just recently took up the post. And he will brief you on disaster trends and losses in 2015.
On Syria, just to give you an update of the information I have so far: the UN and Syrian Arab Red Crescent operations are currently under way to deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance to over 100,000 people in Moadamiyeh, Madaya and Zabadani in Rural Damascus; and in Foah and Kafraya in Idleb.
The inter-agency convoys are carrying food supplies, medicine and health and nutrition assistance. And we will give you further details once the convoys have safely reached their destinations.
And just an update on the number of activities related to the passing of the former Secretary-General, Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali – a book of condolence will be open to Permanent Missions, UN Staff, and the public on 18th and 19th February from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Visitors' Lobby. The Secretary-General is expected to sign the book tomorrow morning, we will give you more details on that.
In addition, the UN Flag will be flown at half-mast on Thursday, the 18th of February 2016. Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, will represent the Secretary-General at Mr. Boutros-Ghali's funeral in Cairo.
Earlier today, the Secretary-General briefed Member States on the high-level signature ceremony for the Paris agreement on climate change, which will take place on April 22nd here in New York.
The world now has a universal, fair, flexible and durable climate agreement, but our task is not over, it has just begun, the Secretary-General said describing the signature ceremony as an essential step in that process.
The Secretary-General said that the signature ceremony, which will be the first opportunity for Governments to advance the process that will lead to the implementation and ratification of the Paris Agreement, will keep the global spotlight firmly focused on climate change. He urged Member States to ensure that the legal requirements for their leaders to have full powers to sign are in place by the 22nd of April.
He added that the cost of inaction becomes clearer every day with more extreme weather events, lost lives, homes, productivity and hope.
His full remarks are in my office.
In a statement issued today on the anniversary of the 17th February 2011 revolution in Libya – which toppled the dictatorship in Libya – the Secretary-General's Special Representative, Martin Kobler, commended Libyans for their unmatched will and sacrifice to achieve peace and a life of freedom.
He added that much work lies ahead to achieve the revolution's goals of building a state based on democracy, justice, rule of law and human rights, and urged Libyans to use this occasion to spark another "revolution of will" against the divisiveness to bring back unity to the country.
Mr. Kobler stressed that tremendous sacrifices have been made in 2011 and tremendous compromises are still needed today, adding that the UN and the international community stand united with Libyans in their hour of need and continue to offer support to the country and its institutions.
On Yemen, the Special Advisers to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, and on the Responsibility to Protect, Jennifer Welsh, have expressed their concern at the heavy toll on civilians of the conflict in that country.
The two Special Advisers noted that civilians and civilian infrastructures continue to be targeted by all parties to the conflict, to the point that the attention of the international media has largely become saturated. They called on the international community – and notably the Security Council – to take action to end this unacceptable situation.
The Special Advisers also said that they expect that commitments by the Yemeni authorities and by Saudi Arabia to conduct credible and independent investigations into all alleged violations and provide reparations to victims will be swiftly implemented. They underlined the importance of looking for the most effective means of supporting this goal, including the possibility of establishing an international independent and impartial mechanism to support accountability in Yemen.
A press release is available online.
The Secretary-General's Special Representative for Guinea-Bissau, Miguel Trovoada, briefed the Security Council this morning.
He said that the country is still in a political impasse with State institutions and the main political actors divided. He added that this was delaying the implementation of essential reforms.
Mr. Trovoada called on the national stakeholders to have a frank and sincere dialogue which respects the laws of constitution of the country. He also called on political leaders to put national interest above all things and encouraged them to examine the possibility of adopting a "pact for stability".
His remarks are available in my office.
And on Yemen, at 3 p.m. the Secretary-general's Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, will brief the Council and he is going to speak to you afterwards at the stakeout.
Just an update on Darfur from our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA): they say that the number of civilians displaced as a result of the recent conflict in the Jebel Marra [area] has increased from 38,000 to 73,000 people.
Civilians have been fleeing Jebel Marra since hostilities escalated mid-January and have been arriving in three main locations in North Darfur State.
The recent increase is largely due to a massive influx of some 30,000 civilians in Sortony, where civilians have been gathering next to a base operated by the joint AU-UN peacekeeping mission. Some 18,000 individuals in total have also arrived in Tawilla since mid-January, at an established camp for displaced persons.
Thousands are also reported to have fled into Central Darfur but the UN has not yet been able to verify reported displacement or ascertain and respond to humanitarian needs, despite several requests to the authorities to access the relevant areas.
The African Union-UN mission is putting in place contingency measures to protect the civilian population – including the establishment of a protective area to secure the displaced civilians and reinforcing the number of troops and police officers, as well as increasing the number of patrols.
**Central African Republic
From the Central African Republic, the UN Mission in that country (MINUSCA) reports that the situation continues to remain calm following Sunday's presidential and legislative elections.
The National [Elections] Authority released provisional results yesterday for polling stations in Bangui and Ombella-Mpoko Prefecture. The announcement of results for remaining prefectures is expected to continue later today.
Meanwhile, the Mission began the transportation of results from other prefectures to Bangui today.
From our colleagues at UNICEF: they underscore that two years of erratic rain and drought have combined with one of the most powerful El Niño events in 50 years to wreak havoc on the lives of the most vulnerable children.
According to the Agency, almost 1 million children are in need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition in Eastern and Southern Africa.
More information on UNICEF's website.
And in Malawi, the World Food Programme also warning that faced with increased needs, it urgently requires $38 million to help the most vulnerable during this extended lean season. Without additional contributions, cash distributions will have to be suspended in March, while food distributions will be drastically reduced or even discontinued by mid-April.
The humanitarian organizations in Ukraine together with the Government today appealed for $298 million to help 2.5 million of the most vulnerable people in Ukraine, to help them in 2016.
The funding will go towards providing critical, life-saving assistance in the most affected locations along the "contact line" and in areas beyond Government control.
The Humanitarian Coordinator for Ukraine, Neal Walker, added that the cumulative impact of insecurity, destruction, trauma, disruption of basic services, and limitation of freedom of movement over the last two years have resulted in a high level of humanitarian and protection needs in Ukraine – more information online.
Today, the UN and the Government of Colombia launched in Bogota a new Multi-Partner Trust Fund to respond to stabilization and peacebuilding needs.
The Fund will be managed by the Government and the UN, in close cooperation with interested donors, and will especially support conflict areas in the lead-up, in the aftermath of possible peace agreements with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC-EP).
The fund will boost access to justice, community security and local governance capacity, restore victims' rights and kick-start social and economic rehabilitation.
Norway, Sweden and the UN's own Peacebuilding Fund are the first contributors, helping to kick-start the fund with an initial $8 million.
For donations and real time contributions you can go to mptf.undp.org
An update from the World Health Organization, which launched yesterday a global Strategic Response Framework and Joint Operations Plan to guide the international response to the spread of Zika and the neonatal malformations and neurological conditions associated with it.
$56 million are required to implement this Plan. In the interim, WHO has tapped a recently established emergency contingency fund to finance its initial operations.
Tomorrow I will be joined by John Ging, Director of Operations for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). He will brief you on his recent trip to South America, where he visited countries impacted by El Niño.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Stéphane, can you update us on the… Staffan de Mistura's travels, who will he be meeting with, and after the… the aid deliveries, what other confidence‑building measures is he trying to put in place before the talks, the next round of talks?
Spokesman: Well, last I saw, he was still in Damascus, where I know he… he saw off a number of UN colleagues who were travelling on the… on the convoys. You know, I think he's… his message has been to underscore the need for these humanitarian goods to… to reach those who need it the most, obviously for the benefit of the population that needs it, but for the people of Syria as a whole who can see that the pledges made in Munich actually turn into reality.
Obviously, the second part of the Munich agreement deals with the cessation of violence. That is something that the ISSG [International Syria Support Group] is working on and something we would like to see as soon as possible.
Question: Thank you. Stéphane, do you have any comment on this New York Times opinion piece by one of the SG's former speechwriters basically saying that German Chancellor Angela Merkel would make a really good SG come next term?
Spokesman: Well, we've, obviously, seen the editorial in The New York Times. I think I want to make it very clear that the views expressed in the editorial are only the views of its author, who no longer works here at the United Nations. They do not represent the views of the Secretary‑General.
As you well know, the Secretary‑General, from the beginning, has said he will not take… take any position on the issue of who… who should succeed him. That is firmly in the hands of the Member States.
Sylviane, then Matthew.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. It's a follow‑up on the Syria question. Do you know if Mr. de Mistura went to Aleppo…
Spokesman: No, I…
Question: …to assess the situation?
Spokesman: I do not believe that he did.
Question: I have another question on the… any reaction, UN reaction, on the blast that hit Ankara this morning?
Spokesman: No, I just saw it, obviously, as I was coming in here on television. We're aware of it. I've asked our colleagues to follow up and see what, if anything, we can say, but I just saw the news as I was walking in here.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. I wanted to ask you, on Burundi, the UNIC (United Nations Information Centre) in Bujumbura, Beatrice Nibogora is quoted that Ban Ki‑moon will visit the country February 22nd and 23rd. Is that the case?
And what are his goals? And is he aware of the recent pattern of house demolitions and seizures of those who have left?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General is very clearly aware of the situation in Burundi and the continued violence and the lack of progress on the political talks. And when we're able to officially announce the visit, we will.
Question: And I… okay. So… but it was… I mean, it seems like it was announced there. Was there some… all right.
What I wanted to ask is a different New York Times question. There's an editorial in today's New York Times calling on the… called a horror… tale of horror at the UN about the sexual abuse allegations, and it concludes recommending as the editorial board, "it is time to exclude countries that do not impose necessary discipline to make zero tolerance possible." And I wanted to… I guess I wanted to know, it's often said that the Secretary‑General was waiting for Member States to do X, Y and Z. This recommendation to simply as DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) say we are not taking Member States that do not meet these standards, is that something that he can do himself…
Spokesman: I think the… the Secretary‑General more than anyone here shares in the dismay and horror of what we've seen of vulnerable people being abused by peacekeepers, whether they be UN peacekeepers or international peacekeepers.
He has… I think you… you will have noted that, on a number of occasions, whole contingents have been repatriated when they did not perform to standards. This is obviously something that we continue to take very seriously. It is important that those troops that are… serve under the UN flag perform at the highest standards, protect who they're supposed to protect. And if they don't live up to those standards, as we've seen in the past, a number of them have been repatriated.
Other measures are being… are being put into place. The Secretary‑General's upcoming report to the General Assembly, obviously, will be… I think will be… make an interesting read. And as you know, he's recently appointed Jane Holl Lute to sort of coordinate the UN system's response to all these horrendous allegations.
Question: Just one more direct question on this. I just… because the difference, I guess, would be on what they're proposing, and what you've said is, you deploy and then, if something goes wrong, you repatriate or move to, some months down the road, repatriate. They're trying to say, if a country is shown not to have the systems in place to prosecute, don't deploy in the first place. What do you think of that idea?
Spokesman: I think all these things need to be looked at. It's obvious that anyone that is deployed needs to… all the troops need to perform to the highest standards and that the fight against sexual abuse is one that is not for the Secretary‑General, that it's a partnership with the Security Council and with those countries that contribute troops.
Question: Thank you, Stéph. On aid convoys entering Syria, do you know if anything has gone to Aleppo considering what's happening there and the security risk that they must take?
Spokesman: Sorry, at this point, I have no other information than what I've been given. It's coming from Damascus, and as soon as I have it, I will share it with you.
Question: Right. And on the CAR, I'm always curious, after their allegations, are the accused confined to barracks, or do they still run around?
Spokesman: No, I think, in most cases, they are confined to barracks as we've said here.
Ms. Lederer, then Mr. Klein, and then…
Question: Stéphane, going back to Syria, you said it's the ISSG that's working on the cessation of hostilities, but certainly Staffan de Mistura must be playing some sort of a role…
Spokesman: Of course. I mean, I don't… I don't mean that he's… I didn't mean to imply that he's not… that he's not playing… playing a role. Obviously, the task force and the processes set in place involve… involve the UN. But it is… it is incumbent on all the members of the ISSG who have the ability to bear pressure on those… on those who are fighting to put… to help put in place the cessation of hostilities as soon as possible.
Question: Well, since the week is up tomorrow, what's the Secretary‑General's message to all of… all of these people who, since we have seen no signs of any cessation of hostilities?
Spokesman: The message is clear is that we would like to see, we want to see, for the sake of the Syrian people, a cessation of hostilities as soon as possible. I think we've had… as Mr. de Mistura has often said, we've had a lot of the conferences. We've had a lot of the speeches and commitments. I think the Syrian people want to see hard evidence that these conferences serve a purpose. That's why the… the sending of aid convoys an incredibly important first step, but we would obviously… also very much focused on the cessation of violence.
Question: Yes, actually, I have two questions. First of all, on the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse, it's my understanding that if a troop-contributing country does not respond to a request to initiate an investigation, doesn't take any action, the UN itself, after some period of time, initiates its own investigation. I'd like to know… well, assuming that that is correct, I'd like to know then what… what does the UN intend to do with the results of its investigation? Where are they going to go? Will the Secretary‑General invoke Article 99 of the Charter and bring it to the attention of the Security Council to take action or transmit it to any court or…
Spokesman: I think the issue of sexual exploitation abuse by international peacekeepers has definitely been brought to the attention of the Security Council. They're very well aware of it. These peacekeeping missions are ones that are authorized by the Security Council.
It is important that every country ensure that those who are charged with these horrendous crimes face justice.
The way… the… as you know, the United Nations itself doesn't have a way of trying these people. It is up to the… the Member State to put the soldiers on trial and to ensure that justice is served.
As you know, in the upcoming… in the upcoming report of the Secretary‑General, there will be greater transparency. There'll be naming of contingents, as we've already started… started doing. But it is the responsibility… ultimately, the issue of accountability lays in the hands of the countries that… is dispatching the troops.
Question: But if nothing is done, and there could be… couldn't there be a recommendation to the Security Council, for example, assuming there's a systemic issue here, of referral to the International Criminal Court…
Spokesman: I think…
Question: …if the troop-contributing country is a member of the ICC.
Spokesman: …if justice is not done for the victims, other options will have to be looked at.
Question: Okay. And I do have a second question if I may.
Spokesman: Yes, you may.
Question: Thank you. And this has to do, again, with the process of the… of selection of the new Secretary‑General. I understand the Secretary‑General, Ban Ki‑moon, does not intend to get involved in terms of making any recommended selection, but is there any plan for him to submit some sort of almost like a postmortem of his own administration to inform the candidates of where he sees needs for improvement, priorities for the future…
Spokesman: Well, there aren't…
Question: …anything like that or submit that to the bodies? I guess the General Assembly is going to have hearings, you know, to submit his… review of his own performance and priorities going forward where he sees gaps.
Spokesman: Well, I mean, I think the Secretary‑General has been pretty clear on… on his priorities and where the gaps are when he speaks to the General Assembly when he did, in fact, recently lay out his… his priority.
There is as… when there is a transition, there are preparations for transitional papers to be given to the incoming administration, I mean, to make sure they are up to date on all the files, all the challenges. And I have no doubt that when a new Secretary‑General‑elect is elected that Mr. Ban Ki‑moon will have a frank and heart‑to‑heart talk with whoever she or he is that is the Secretary‑General‑elect to ensure that the transition is as smooth and as professional as possible.
Nizar, and then we'll go to the back.
Question: It's regarding the explosion or the attack today by ISIS in Aden where they killed dozens of new recruits to the security forces there. How do you describe the situation in the areas which claim to be under the control of the legitimate Government of Yemen? Especially, yesterday, Stephen O'Brien mentioned one ship was taken to Jizan which… WFP ship.
Another thing, the attack on a building which is 200 meters away from UN building and diplomatic mission, all these things. What do they… is there any legitimate Government as such in South Yemen or the areas which claim to be controlled by a Government there?
Spokesman: First of all, I would hope you would take advantage of having Mr. Ismail in front of a microphone to ask him these questions. But it is clear that, with the ongoing violence that we're seeing in Yemen and their ongoing suffering of the civilians, it continues to create a power vacuum which allows extremist groups like al‑Qaida and others to instil more suffering and more violence on the Yemeni people. And that is why the Secretary‑General's message is for all the parties to recommit themselves to the political process.
Question: But do you have any contact with [Abdrabuh Mansour] Hadi Government directly or indirectly to convey these…
Spokesman: I think the Special Envoy's been speaking to all the parties involved.
Question: Thank you. Stéphane, yesterday Syrian Ambassador Mr. [Bashar] Ja'afari said that Syrian army supporting and fighting together with the Syrian Kurdish group UID side by side with the Syrian army. And does Mr. de Mistura considering to invite this group, this Kurdish group, to the political talks with side by the Government? Thank you.
Spokesman: I think Mr. de Mistura has already spoken on the need to have a very broad‑based representation of various groups, civil society groups, and others in the context, in the broader context, of the talks that will be held in Geneva.
Question: Thank you. Stéphane, going back to the issue of Ukraine, you had mentioned the appeal to provide assistance to, I think, 2.5 million people. I was just wondering if you can give us an update in terms of the level of fighting there is going on and whether or not the Government is providing any aid or if it's being cooperative in the UN's provision of…
Spokesman: Well, you know, I don't have an update on the fighting at hand, but obviously, we are working with the Government on the humanitarian appeal. The appeal was a joint appeal by the UN humanitarian agencies and the Government. And I think the Government has been as cooperative as possible in working with us on humanitarian issues.
Sylviane, then Matthew, then we'll go to our guest.
Question: Thank you. I have to go back… going back to Syria, can you tell me, what is the difference between the ceasefire and cessation of hostility? We started in Geneva to talk about… Geneva III to talk about ceasefire, and now we are asking for cessation of hostility.
Spokesman: It's a question that's often raised. In my mind and hopefully in the mind of others, it is one where cessation of hostilities is a much simpler process, is whereby all the parties cease hostilities.
Ceasefire is something that's slightly more complex and negotiated between the parties. What we would like to see as a first step is a reduction and a cessation of the violence.
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. Yesterday, I'd asked Farhan about this letter from staff in Kenya to Ban Ki‑moon and OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] about Joan… Joan Clos of Habitat, complaining about things that he said that had a… they believe a racial nature. He said to ask Habitat. So Habitat has confirmed they received the letter. But I still want to ask. Since the letter was, in fact, addressed to OIOS and Ban Ki‑moon, particularly in the OIOS case, does OIOS have jurisdiction over Habitat? Is the… has a decision been made that this letter will only be considered by Habitat itself who's run by the…
Spokesman: Yes, OIOS, if I'm not mistaken, has jurisdiction over Habitat. We're obviously very much aware of the allegations in the letter, and we're examining the claims according to due process.
Question: Do you have anything on the Sudan? I just wanted to ask you. The Sudan staff that they…
Spokesman: No, I don't have an update.
Spokesman: Okay. I will go get our guest.
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