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

28 January 2016

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

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

Good afternoon — apologies for the usual tardiness.

**Statement on Somalia

I will start off on a statement on Somalia - the Secretary-General welcomes today's decision by the federal Government of Somalia on a model for the electoral process to establish a new, bicameral federal Parliament in 2016, based on inclusivity and representation.  He congratulates the Somali leadership on this decision, which paves the way for a timely transition at the expiry of the current institutions' term.  He particularly applauds the commitment to representation of women and minority groups, including that women will comprise 30 per cent of the next Parliament, in line with the Mogadishu Declaration of [December] 2015.

The Secretary-General notes that today's announcement follows broad-based consultations with Somali [regional] administrations, parliamentarians, traditional elders and civil society.  This is, in itself, a signal that Somalia's progress in peace-building and State-building. He urges all parties to support timely implementation of the 2016 process, in a spirit of national unity and compromise.  The Secretary-General reiterates the urgency of establishing a political road map towards universal suffrage in Somalia by 2020, to ensure continued momentum in the country's transition to democracy.  The Secretary-General pledges the continued full support of the United Nations to Somalia's peace process.

**Somalia

And as you know, back here, the new Special Representative for Somalia, Michael Keating, briefed the Security Council via video conference from Mogadishu.  He told the Council that the Somali Cabinet’s decision today on the electoral model “may be a watershed moment, marking the growing political maturity of a federal Somalia”.  The Special Representative called on Somalia’s international partners to help implement the Somali-led and -owned model.  He added that more work needs to be done to ensure the agreement of a political road map for 2016 to 2020 and to deliver universal elections by 2020.

Turning to security, Mr. Keating noted that success in Somalia this year will depend on managing threats, notably those posed by Al-Shabaab, and commended the President for making commitments to reform the security sector.  He also highlighted the difficult humanitarian situation — today, more than 40 per cent of Somalia’s population needs aid, including over 1 million people who remain internally displaced and some 300,000 children under the age of 5 who are malnourished.

Before the meeting on Somalia, the Council unanimously adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) until the end of July.  And Mr. Keating’s remarks are available in my office.

**Human Rights Up Front

Yesterday afternoon, in case you didn’t see it in the webcast — the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, spoke at an interactive General Assembly discussion on the Human Rights Up Front initiative, saying that one of the fundamental aims is prevention of conflicts and atrocities, which have an intolerable scale of suffering.  It is imperative, he said, that we do far better at prevention, taking early action rather than waiting for a disaster to occur.

He said that Human Rights Up Front tries to change the way the UN operates in three distinct way.  First, it entails a cultural change:  making sure that UN staff understand the prevention responsibilities and pursue them vigorously in the spirit of the UN Charter.  Second, it poses an operational change: to ensure that we work on the basis of shared analysis among UN development, humanitarian, political and human rights entities.  And third, it provides for an enhanced engagement with Member States and the main organs of the UN, as well as national authorities and Member States.  The Deputy Secretary-General’s remarks are in my office.

**Syria

And Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, issued a video message to the people of Syria today, in advance of the launch of the intra-Syrian talks, telling them that five years of this conflict has been too much.  He noted that the Syrian people have seen enough conferences — two of them have already taken place.  This one cannot fail.  His message was simple:  Khalas; enough.  Enough of buildings being destroyed, enough of bombing cities, enough of people risking their lives and facing humiliation as refugees, enough of danger.  The Special Envoy told the Syrian people that everyone who is coming to the conference needs to hear the Syrian people’s voices, telling them that this conference must be an opportunity not to be missed.

**Zika

And also in Geneva today, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Margaret Chan, briefed the board members on the Zika situation.  Dr. Chan said that the virus is spreading explosively in the Americas and that the level of alarm is extremely high.  As of today, cases have been reported in 23 countries and territories in the region.  She explained that a causal relationship between the virus infection, and birth malformations and neurological syndromes has not yet been established, but is strongly suspected.  And the possible links, only recently suspected, have rapidly changed the risk profile of Zika, from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions.  She added that the increased incidence of microcephaly is particularly alarming, as it places a heart-breaking burden on families and communities.

WHO is deeply concerned about the rapidly evolving situation for four main reasons — the possible association with birth malformations and neurological syndromes; the potential for further international spread; the lack of immunity in newly affected areas; and the absence of vaccines, specific treatments and rapid diagnostic tests.  Conditions associated with this year’s El Niño weather pattern are also expected to increase mosquito populations greatly in many areas.  Dr. Chan will convene a meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on the virus and observed increase in neurological disorders and neonatal malformations on 1 February — that’s Monday in Geneva — and that meeting will ascertain whether the outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern — so that meeting will take place on Monday.

**Humanitarian Affairs

And I also wanted to flag that the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Kyung-wha Kang, wrapped up a three-day visit to Eritrea yesterday, urging greater support for vulnerable communities.  She reiterated the readiness of UN development and humanitarian actors to work together in support of Government endeavours to meet basic needs and build the resilience of the most vulnerable communities in Eritrea - there’s a press release on her visit.

And today, Ms. Kang briefed media in Addis Ababa on the humanitarian impact of El Niño, along with the African Union Commissioner for Political Affairs, Aisha Laraba Abdullahi, on the margins of the AU Summit — which as you know the Secretary-General is now on his way to attend.

She noted the strength of El Nino and said that, in Ethiopia, at the beginning of 2015, there were some three million people in need of food assistance and that now there about 10.2 million people in need of food assistance.  She also said that, “the human consequences of the El Niño effect — on drought and drought-like conditions — in many countries of the region, South Africa, Latin America, and the Pacific Islands, has been huge”.

**Yemen

And on Yemen, more than half of the total population of Yemen — some 14.4 million people — are food insecure, as ongoing conflict and import restrictions have reduced the availability of essential foods and sent prices soaring, the FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] said today.  The number of food insecure people has grown by 12 per cent since June 2015, according to FAO.  Fuel shortages and restrictions on imports — which Yemen relies on for more than 90 percent of its staple foods — have reduced the availability of essential food commodities and caused food and fuel prices to soar since the conflict started [escalated] March of last year.  More is available on the FAO website.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator there, Dr. Mamadou Diallo, wrapped up a two-day visit to the northeastern Ituri Province.  He visited Geti, Bukiringi and Komanda, which have seen gross human rights violations over the past two years by parties to the conflict, resulting in the displacement of about 200,000 people.

After speaking to displaced people and humanitarian actors on the ground, he said he heard stories of unspeakable suffering.  Diallo said he was deeply concerned by the material and protection needs of the civilian population, and the gaps that remain, despite concerted response.

The Humanitarian Coordinator also stressed that the protection of civilians must be the primary goal for the Congolese civilian and military authorities, the UN forces and the humanitarian family.  And he urged donors to provide sustained and flexible funding so that assistance can be delivered quickly and effectively as possible.

**Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

And a couple more notes, [the] UN refugee agency head and the Secretary-General of the OECD — the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development — today called jointly on governments to scale up their efforts to help refugees integrate and contribute to the societies and economies of Europe.

Last year, some 1.5 million people claimed asylum in the OECD countries — the highest number ever and nearly twice the number of people recorded in 2014.  Both organizations stressed not only the moral imperative, but also the clear economic incentive to help the millions of refugees living in OECD countries to develop the skills they need to work productively and safely in the jobs of tomorrow — more information online.

**Honour Roll

A couple of financial notes — today, we welcome Denmark, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, as well as Switzerland, to the list of Member States who have paid their budget dues in full for 2016.  Which brings us up to 20.  Also you will have noted that on 18 January, the Secretary-General sent a letter on the subject of arrears, since then a number of Member States have paid the minimum amount due and are no longer the subject to the provisions of Article 19 of the Charter — which removes their vote in the General Assembly.  So, we want to acknowledge the following payments from Bahrain, Burundi, the Dominican Republic, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mali, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, as well as Venezuela — they can, therefore, vote in General Assembly proceedings.

**Press Encounter Tomorrow

Tomorrow 11 a.m., a press briefing by our friend Janos Pasztor, the Assistant Secretary-General focusing on Climate Change.  As Mr. de Mistura would say, khalas.  Mr. Abbadi.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Government of Sweden intends to expel some 80,000 refugees from the country.  As you know, Sweden is a staunch supporter of the United Nations.  What can the Secretary‑General do to convince Sweden not to go ahead with this decision?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, obviously, there is a very heated debate currently going on in Europe on this issue, and I think our message continues to be the same, is that refugees and migrants need to be treated with compassion, dignity, and with full respect of their rights for those who are refugees under the term of the 1951 Convention on the Rights of Refugees, and I know contacts are held at various levels with different countries in Europe on this issue with UN officials.  Yes, sir.

Question:  Since we are on the subject of refugees, two days ago, Denmark approved a law that any refugees coming to Denmark, their belongings will be confiscated in order for the Government to sell it and then pay for the foods and for their stays.  Last week, I brought this question, but it kind of didn't get anywhere.  I was wondering if UN is in contact with Danish Government and…

Spokesman:  No, I think I… I spoke to that, I think, two days… two, three days ago quite extensively.  There have been contacts with the Danish government.  The Secretary‑General has spoken to the Prime Minister of Denmark earlier this year.  There's been an exchange of letters.  I know the Deputy Secretary‑General has also been in touch with Danish officials to make our very deep concerns known to them.

Correspondent:  [Inaudible]?

Spokesman:  You may.

Question:  Thank you.  Those days that I was a refugee, my understanding was that the refugees has… have budget which comes from UN.  Is it still like that?  UN gives budget to countries that accept refugees?

Spokesman:  I think the… the… the… no, I mean, the host countries obviously have to carry that… carry that burden.  Some host countries receive humanitarian assistance with the work of UNHCR where we see refugee populations, notably in Jordan, in Lebanon, and in… and in Turkey.  Now, obviously, there is... there is a financial cost to admitting refugees.  I think the Secretary‑General is fully... is fully aware of that cost.  It is something that sometimes needs to be... to be shared, but I think the underlying issue is the treatment of... the compassionate and the rightful treatment of refugees.  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Are there any updates on the report DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] is planning to launch another…?

Spokesman:  No, we've... following your question from yesterday, we… we contacted ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organization]. They have not been notified or received any information from the Democratic Republic of Korea… People's Republic of Korea.  Edie and then Matthew.

Question:  Stéphane, you mentioned Staffan de Mistura's message to the Syrian people.  The talks are supposed to start tomorrow.  Have invitations actually been sent out to an opposition delegation since there still seems to be quite a bit of squabbling over who should be invited and, if so, is it possible to get a copy of the list of people who have been invited?

Spokesman:  Invitations have… have gone out, Mr. de Mistura said earlier this week, said he was sending out invitations to various parties. At this point, he is not sharing the list of people that he sent invitations to for these proximity talks, which are set to start tomorrow.

Question:  Just one follow‑up on that. There's some talk that some of those invited don't yet have visas.  Is there some arrangement between the UN and Switzerland that that can be done?

Spokesman:  I'm sure those are really logistical issues that will be dealt with with Switzerland.  Switzerland has been an amazing host to the UN in terms… not only in terms of our headquarters, but in terms of the Syria peace process and, of course, the Yemen peace process.  So, I'm sure those issues will be dealt with as quickly as possible.

Question:  Sorry. I actually hadn't planned this, but as you said that, I'd been meaning to ask you this. There are some reports that people… there was a meeting at the Human Rights… at the UN in Geneva about the Calais camp, and there's some people that tried to go and testify or were asked to testify that actually weren't able to get into Switzerland and were turned around. Are aware of that?

Spokesman:  No, but I…

Correspondent:  Okay.  All right.  This is what I wanted to ask you, just a fact, do you have anything on Mali?  There's… the Malian Government is talking about an attack on, I guess, Malian soldiers…

Spokesman:  No, I just noticed that as I was on my way in. We'll ask the desk if there's anything.

Question:  Okay. And you'd mentioned… since you mentioned webcast and Deputy Secretary‑General, I wanted to just… maybe you'll know this.  There was a meeting of… an Arria formula meeting of the Security Council as described as open yesterday on the topic of missing persons.  It wasn't webcast.  So, I have just a… I guess I'm just asking you as… from the UN's perspective, is… nor was it on this EZTV.  Is a meeting that's open, you know, broadcast or how is that decided?

Spokesman:  Well, I… you would have to ask the organizers.  They would have to request… they would have to request the webcast.  As far as I know, I don't think Arria formula meetings are webcast.  But, obviously, if the organizers of a meeting ask for it to be webcast, then we do whatever we can to do that.

Question:  And on the… on what was said in the meeting, one of the Council members said on the topic of missing or disappeared persons that there should be provisions that the graves or what were described as mass graves in Burundi be preserved in order to find out who was put in them.  And I wanted to know whether the UN team, whether Mr. [Jamal] Benomar's or the Office of Human Rights people or the emerging team there, is this within their mandate?  Is anything being done…?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of exactly what was said, but obviously, it is very important that… in any situation, that the proof or evidence of possible crimes be preserved.  Oleg.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane. If we will go back to the Syria upcoming talks, I understand that you're not still disclosing the name of the groups that were invited to Geneva, but there are some reports coming that there would actually be two opposition groups and the delegation of the Government.  So, it's going to be like three delegations.  Is that the case?  And since there is no confirmation from the opposition based in Al-Riyadh, is there a possibility that one of the parties of the talks will just not come and they will take part between other delegations?

Spokesman:  Again, I think Mr. de Mistura was very clear in saying that there would be lots of ups and downs and posturing even before the proximity talks get under way.  I think we have to let them get under way. It's a very fluid process, which Mr. de Mistura's leading almost on a minute‑by‑minute basis out of Geneva.  So I'm not going to add to whatever he may… he may say.  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  Yeah, but the question is, are there actually two opposition delegations?

Spokesman:  I think we have to let the proximity talks get started until we can answer that.   Olga.

Question:  And… thanks. And if you'll speak about the talks that should be started, do you have understanding… some of the talks would start tomorrow.  Do you have understanding who is already in place, who came to Geneva right now?

Spokesman:  No. I understand and sometimes share your level of frustration in my lack of answers here, but really it is… those answers will come out of… will come out of Geneva. I cannot tell you who has checked in to what hotel in Geneva, and I'm not sure Mr. de Mistura can.  Zach.

Question:  Do the invited parties know who else has been invited, or will they be surprised when they get to Geneva?

Spokesman:  Sal… yeah. I guess they will see who else… who else is in the corridor. Again, I think these things will become clear as… as the process goes on.  Linda.

Question:  Thank you, Stéph. Following up, of course, on the Syrian talks, we know that Mr. de Mistura is leading the show, so to speak.  What role do you expect that the Secretary‑General can or will play during these week‑long… you know, weeks‑long talks?

Spokesman:  You know, I think the Secretary‑General and other senior officials are cards that can be deployed at certain points, whether it is to make phone calls, appeals, public statements, private phone calls.  We will be guided by Staffan to see how best he can be used. Obviously, Mr. de Mistura's acting under the full authority and the 120 per cent backing of the Secretary‑General in his efforts on the talks.

Question:  It has to do with the President… the other question.  You said before that, de Mistura is not sharing the list of the invitation.  Is he sharing it with the Secretary‑General, of course?

Spokesman:  You know, we are fully aware of what Mr. de Mistura is doing.  Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane. There are indications that the Syrian opposition meeting in Saudi Arabia has said that they will not join the meetings tomorrow, Friday. Does this complicate de Mistura's Mission?

Spokesman:  I think Mr. de Mistura's mission is rather complicated as it is, and we've seen different quotes from different parties, which don't facilitate his task.  But, again, I think we have to just exercise a little bit of patient and let this process get under way, which will be sort of a rolling process and one with a timeline dictated by the Security Council.

Question:  Thank you.  On Iran, Iran has been on sanction for many, many years, and one of the elements on the sanction was human rights.  Since the sanction has been lifted, has UN seen any change on human rights in Iran?  Because just last year, an average of four people been executed in Iran.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I think the issue of human rights in Iran continues to be a subject that the UN human rights apparatus takes… takes a look at.  I think this four months is probably a little too quick of a… of a time frame to actually state… answer your question in the way you want it to be answered.  Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure. I wanted to ask you, it's about Haiti but about peacekeeping more generally. There's been a study… pretty detailed study put out by the Yale School of Public Health looking back at the introduction of cholera to Haiti.  And beyond, you know, finding… you know, they believe that it was brought by the UN, this is the part I wanted to ask you about.  They were saying that there's very simple strategies that could be deployed, would have saved lives and would in the future including antibiotic, prophylaxis at a cost of $1 per peacekeeper a week before deployment or screening at a cost of $2.50 per peacekeeper, but they say in their study that neither of these are in place at UN peacekeeping.  Can you… I guess I'm asking you, beyond… you know, the position hasn't changed on Haiti.  Just as a position of UN peacekeeping, given that these highly respected doctors are saying that these very cheap prophylactic measures could save lives, if they're not implemented at the UN, why not?

Spokesman:  Let me take a look at the study, and I'll get back to you.

Question:  Can I ask one more?  Because I missed your response… I read it in the transcript, actually, that you'd said that the… that UNMISS is not flying according to the 28‑state map in South Sudan.  Maybe I had… so… maybe I hadn't asked it correctly.  What I'd heard and I'm going to ask… it may be a distinction or not, that it's the UN Humanitarian Air Service, that they were told if they do not file customs forms and accept this 28‑state designation, there will be no flights and that they are going along with it. Is there a distinction in your answer between UNMISS and UNHAS?

Spokesman:  Not that I'm aware of.  I mean, the UN is the UN.

Correspondent: So they're not flying.

Spokesman: That's my… that's… I… I've really nothing to add to what I said… to what I said yesterday.  Okay. Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.