The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Noon Briefing Guest
In a short while, I will be joined by Jehangir Khan, Director of the UN Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, as well as the UN Counter-Terrorism Centre. He will brief you ahead of the Conference on the Human Rights of Victims of Terrorism, which will take place tomorrow at 10 a.m. in Conference Room 3.
The Secretary-General earlier today met with Sergio Mattarella, the President of Italy. The Secretary-General emphasized that the political process is key to addressing the political, security and humanitarian challenges in Libya. The Secretary-General and the President exchanged views on the situation in Syria and related challenges arising from the large-scale arrivals of refugees and migrants and the spread of violent extremism.
In addition, they discussed the importance of the follow-up and implementation of the 2030 development Agenda, as well as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Finally, the Secretary-General acknowledged Italy’s key role in advocating the universal abolition of the death penalty and thanked Italy for its contribution to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), as well as the support it provides to the numerous United Nations entities that it hosts.
Earlier today, the Secretary-General also spoke at an informal meeting of the General Assembly’s special session on the World Drug Problem. The Secretary-General in his remarks said that around the world, illicit drugs continue to promote violence, impede sustainable development, endanger communities and undermine people’s health. He added that the problem is interconnected with corruption, terrorism and illicit flows of money.
The Secretary-General underscored the importance of the special session in providing an opportunity for the international community to enter into an informed and wide-ranging discussion on drug policy in all its aspects. He stressed that only shared responsibility can ensure the delivery of balanced and comprehensive drug policies with a renewed focus on human rights and public health, including prevention, treatment and care. The Secretary-General’s remarks are available in my office.
**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels
The Deputy Secretary-General is on his way to Munich, where he will lead the UN delegation to the Munich Security Conference, as well as to the International Syria Support Group meetings.
Stephen O’Brien, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, is briefing the Security Council in closed consultations as we speak about the humanitarian situation in Syria, about which he spoke to you yesterday. And the Council is also scheduled to hold closed consultations on Burundi this afternoon.
Yesterday and Monday, Envoys of the Middle East Quartet met in Oslo as part of their continued engagement with key regional and international stakeholders. The Quartet Envoys condemned in the strongest possible terms all acts of terror and violence against civilians. They also expressed concern about current trends on the ground that pose a threat to the two-State solution and reiterated the call for concrete steps that resume the transition contemplated by the Oslo Accords. The Envoys look forward to the forthcoming Principals meeting that will take place in Munich.
Following months of blocked access to Taiz City, Yemen, and in response to mounting emergency health needs, the World Health Organization (WHO) has successfully delivered more than 20 tons of life-saving medicines and medical supplies. These supplies are critical to meet the most urgent needs in a city where more than 200,000 people continue to live under siege with limited access to humanitarian aid. The health supplies, which had been blocked from entering the city for eight weeks, were finally delivered to four hospitals in Taiz as of 31 January.
**Central African Republic
From the Central African Republic, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reports that the security situation continues to remain generally calm in the country ahead of Sunday's presidential and legislative elections. Sensitive electoral material has been distributed to voting centres throughout the country yesterday, as well as to refugee voting sites in Cameroon and Chad. MINUSCA also reports that the Authorité Nationale des Elections has suspended 17 district managers allegedly implicated in electoral irregularities.
From South Sudan, the Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Eugene Owusu, is appealing for $220 million in urgent funding before the dry season ends in May. In the rainy season, most roads become inaccessible in South Sudan for around six months and partners are forced to rely on air transport, significantly raising the cost of aid delivery. So far, only about 2 per cent of the $1.3 billion needed to provide life-saving assistance and protection to over 5 million people in the country has been received.
I also want to flag a couple of things from the agencies. UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] Regional Director for East Asia and Pacific, Daniel Toole, issued a statement following the Australian High Court finding on offshore detention of asylum seekers. Mr. Toole stressed that the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Australia is a signatory, underscores that the best interests of a child must be a primary consideration in all decisions and actions impacting that child. Any action that increases the risks a child faces, including removal to a place where a child’s rights are less protected, is clearly not in the best interest of that child, he added. The rights of children must be respected in every situation, including in actions to protect sovereign borders.
At a conference in Amsterdam today, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) called for a globally coordinated effort to counter the risks posed to food security by antimicrobial resistance. Aside from the human health considerations, the emergence of microbes resistant to antibiotics and other pharmaceutical agents puts animal health at risk and consequently has an impact on rural livelihoods and food security.
Yesterday afternoon, we issued a couple of readouts, one on the Secretary-General’s meeting with the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea, and another one on his meeting with the Foreign Minister of Argentina.
On the honour roll, we are pleased to announce that the Czech Republic has joined the honour roll. It became yesterday the twenty-eighth Member State to pay its regular budget dues in full. We say thank you to our colleagues in Prague for helping us keep the lights on. Khalas. Matthew?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Sure. I have a number of questions, but I'll start with South Sudan. You gave this readout about the roads and money, but the… not only are there reports… there reports by the SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] in Opposition that the Government has attacked their cantonment site in Maridi and children are dead, et cetera, so people there have said that there was no UN response, no UN anything. What… are you aware of it? And what is the UN's role when this fighting occurs?
Spokesman: Obviously, the UN is where it can be in South Sudan and doing an enormous amount in order to protect civilians. I have not gotten a report from the field on this particular incident.
Question: But once… once something like the SPLA‑IO, which is a party to the agreement, makes such an allegation, does UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] send anyone out?
Spokesman: I think if want to go into the granular details, you can call UNMISS. What I'm telling you is I have not received any update from them.
Correspondent: Right, but it has to do with protection of civilians. I don't really consider it that granular.
Question: Okay. Ready for another one? Cool. Let's go to Sudan. The… the… there's been now for almost two months two Darfuri graduate students who have been held incommunicado in Khartoum, Ali Osman Musa is one of them, and human rights groups are speaking about them. I'm wondering, has the UN there said anything? And do you have any answer to yesterday's question about paying the staff's salary in dollars?
Spokesman: Yes, we're working on some… harvesting some information on your second part. And on the first part, let me see what I can find out. Abdelhamid?
Correspondent: Thank you, Stéphane. And I hope you will be patient with me.
Spokesman: It depends. As long as there's a question mark in what you're going to say, I'm patient with you.
Correspondent: I do have two questions. Let me just say this. On Monday, you read a statement saying that the [Secretary-General] condemned the burning of a synagogue in the West Bank. That's what you said. And he calls for investigation. Now I want to quote the Israeli TV, what the Israeli TV said. It said, fire started in a tent… tent that was used as a Jewish synagogue in the West Bank, carrying the three names of settlers who were kidnapped in 2014. So, it's not a synagogue. It's a tent that's in the occupied West Bank by settlers who are illegally there. Now, I can list at least 10 mosques were burned by the settlers, the last of which was on 25 February 2015, the mosque of Al Huda in Jaba'ah near Bethlehem. There were many other mosques I can… I want to give me one example when the Secretary‑General issued a statement when a mosque is burned by settlers, leaving their signature behind…
Spokesman: First of all, I think a religious edifice can take many shape, and I think whatever religion is represented by that edifice… in that edifice, religious sites need to be protected and respected.
Question: Even if it's in the occupied territory? Even if it's…
Spokesman: Let… that's my statement. I think the Secretary‑General has condemned and repeatedly condemned the excessive use of force by Israeli security forces against Palestinian civilians, and he has… either he or his Special Envoy… special… his representatives on the ground have also condemned attacks against religious sites that are used by Palestinians.
Question: Can you give me one example?
Spokesman: I will find… I will be happy to try to find you an example. Oleg. And then…
Question: Stéphane, thank you. I'm sure you heard that there's going to be a meeting between Russian patriarch and the Pope in Cuba. Does the Secretary‑General… will he follow this meeting? And in his opinion, what should they discuss in the current times of turmoil?
Spokesman: You know, obviously, it's a historic meeting which has long been in the making. It is not up to the Secretary‑General to suggest points of discussion between these two representatives of… major religious representatives. He's obviously happy that they are meeting, and I'm sure we can get further comments from our colleagues at the Alliance of Civilization, but we would welcome the meeting. Evelyn and then Ms. Landry.
Correspondent: Right. Thank you, Steph. The Russian Foreign Ministry, through its spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, is blasting the Secretary‑General for anti‑Moscow bias in his assessment of actions in Syria saying it's… he's distorting Russia's role for the bombing over Aleppo, according to his interview with The Financial Times. And I believe it was Carole who… we were asked several times in this briefing of what the SG thought of Russia's role.
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General, as Mr. [Stephen] O'Brien said himself, is against any bombings that are hurtful to civilians and has asked for a halt to all bombings. As for the interview you refer to, the Secretary‑General, I think, was… his words were misinterpreted, and we have told The Financial Times that.
Question: Same topic?
Spokesman: Carole? Carole? Sorry?
Question: Where was that?
Spokesman: It's in The Financial Times. Carole?
Correspondent: Along the same lines, Stéphane, the Turkish Prime Minister, Erdogan, mentioned today that it was hypocritical for the UN to call on Turkey to keep its borders open when it's not as forcefully requesting that Russia stop the bombings, which is causing the…
Spokesman: I think… sorry. Go ahead.
Correspondent: That was the issue, was that really… the words "Russia" and "bombing" never appear in the same sentence.
Spokesman: I think, first of all, again, the Secretary‑General, all his envoys, have called for a halt to all the violence, a halt to all the bombings, and have asked for all those involved in activities to fight Da’esh and other extremists, that they respect international humanitarian law, international law and avoid any civilian casualties or any attacks on civilian infrastructures. I think the Secretary‑General's position is clear and applies across the board. We are also very grateful to the actions of Turkey and the humanitarian work they have done. My colleagues at UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], I think, said so earlier today. I think the Turkish Government, the Turkish people have shown an amazing amount of generosity in hosting millions of Syrian refugees. Like the other border countries, they are carrying a huge responsibility and burden. The focus now on everyone should be on finding a way to halt the violence.
Correspondent: Follow‑up on that? Thanks, Stéphane. UNHCR urged Turkey to open the border for the other Syrian refugees. I would like to ask if Secretary‑General or the other high officials from the United Nations speak to other European countries and Gulf countries and United States to have more Syrian refugees and relocate some of them from Turkey, especially the United States got 10,000 or will have 10,000 and 12 countries have nothing.
Spokesman: There is a global responsibility for helping refugees. The border countries to Syria carry a huge responsibility and burden by their… just by their… obviously by their geographic location. But, the long‑term care of refugees is one that is a global responsibility, as that was the message also the Secretary‑General underscored in his meetings in London.
Question: On the same topic, I don't know if my colleagues were talking about the same speech that Mr. [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan had about… the refug… the UN statement. He basically called… said the UN is a useless organization. He said, what does the UN did? It was very harsh criticism there. I want to ask, what happened between Turkey and the UN recently that led to this very harsh criticism by the President and by the Prime Minister of Turkey in the same time?
Spokesman: I think you would have to… you know, I haven't read the whole speech. I think that's a question best laid at the feet of those who gave the speech. I know the Secretary‑General saw the Prime Minister of Turkey in London. Our relationships are good, and I think the UN… what the UN has been doing is for everyone to see in terms of the humanitarian operation that we have mounted in Syria and in the region.
Question: Just a follow‑up about Aleppo. Stéphane, does the UN think that dropping food like by… by using airplanes by UK or other members of coalition is a necessity now or that will be a necessity in the future?
Spokesman: I think, you know, the issue of airdrops is a complex one. It really should be something to be used as a last resort, because it involves… logistically, it's complicated. You need to make sure also you have distribution on the ground. Also, obviously, flying through the skies of Syria may not be the best thing to do currently. Our aim continues to call for the lifting of the siege of all those towns who are besieged or hard to reach. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to just a… as a… as a… I guess as a follow‑up, yesterday, I saw the Secretary‑General and some of his team go into the Security Council sometime around 10:40 a.m.. It wasn't on his schedule. So, I'd like to ask you, given that the purpose of the schedule is to know who he's meeting with, what was that about?
Spokesman: I'm not aware and he also has an office in the back of the Security Council, so he may have just been using the office. I'm not aware of any meeting.
Question: Did it have to do with the topics that have been just discussed here?
Spokesman: Not that I'm aware of.
Correspondent: Somebody said that he was meeting with the Russian Permanent Representative.
Spokesman: You know, he meets the Permanent Representatives quite often.
Question: But, doesn't that usually show up on his schedule?
Spokesman: As I said, he sometimes…
Question: Can you… can I ask… this is a question. What… did he meet…?
Spokesman: I understand.
Question: Okay. And the other one is also on Syria. Karen AbuZayd has been given this new job on migration, but yesterday was the press conference of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria. So, she wasn't there, but I guess I want to ask you, is she still… does she have two UN jobs now, or is she no longer on that commission?
Spokesman: That's a very valid question. My sense is that she no longer is part of that commission.
Correspondent: Heard she was still on it.
Spokesman: I will check. I may and probably will… am wrong. Oleg?
Question: Stéphane. I think four people were killed in the eastern of Ukraine when the bus hit a mine. Is there any reaction to what happened?
Spokesman: I haven't seen that report, but I will take a look.
Question: And with what… as a follow‑up, with what is happening in Ukraine right now, there is… there seems to be some political turmoil again. Some ministers are changing cabinets, leaving their posts. Is there anything Ban Ki‑moon would call the Ukrainian authorities, concerning what's happening in the country and in the east?
Spokesman: No particular comment at this time. Yes, Emoke, go ahead.
Question: Thank you. Wildlife officials in South Sudan are saying that about 500 elephants have been killed since the conflict began there. That's about 10 per cent of the country's elephant population. And I understand that the protection of human life is the priority, but under the GA [General Assembly] resolution from last year on illicit wildlife trafficking, the GA called for the UN and its agencies to help countries protect wildlife. So, is the UN doing anything to address this issue of protecting animals in conflict?
Spokesman: Let me check what the Mission is doing. I think, obviously, civilian strife, warfare, the breakdown of central authority leaves open a space for extremist groups, for wildlife poaching, which, as we know, also fuels the illicit… it's part of international crime rings, so let me see what our colleagues in the Mission are doing. Yep? Go ahead. Sorry. Then we'll go to you.
Question: Sorry. On the Australian high court decision, Australia is set to deport 267 people, including 37 babies, to Nauru. And the high court decision says this is legal provided that their asylum claims, their refugee claims, are going to be processed, except for the average processing time is now over one year, and then they are going to be then settled in a third‑party country. So far, Australia's only got Cambodia to agree to take any of these refugees. Do you have any statement on this third‑party settlement?
Spokesman: Obviously, if it wasn't clear, the statement I read from the UNICEF regional director referred to that, and I can give you a copy. It is extremely important that all the countries that are signatories to the Refugee Convention respect the rights, human rights and dignity of those who are applying for claims. And I know our colleagues at UNHCR have, on a number of occasions, expressed their concern about the situation in Australia. Yep?
Question: Yeah. Thanks, Stéphane. I believe the Security Council has asked for a briefing on Western Sahara. Is there any update on the situation there and on the possible trip of the Secretary‑General?
Spokesman: As you know, we're always happy to announce trips when they're confirmed, and if and when that trip occurs, we will do that from here. Carla and then we'll go to our guest.
Question: Stéphane, what does the UN expect will result from tomorrow's meeting of the International Syria Support Group?
Spokesman: We hope that there is a recommitment from all those around the table to exercise a positive influence on the parties on the ground and to see a cessation of violence and to help also ensure that all the relevant Security Council resolutions are abided by, including and especially those about humanitarian access to all areas. Matthew?
Question: Thanks so much. I'm trying to figure out what questions will be answered and which ones won't be answered. So, I'm going to preface this in an entirely different way. As you know, Frank Lorenzo and South… has been indicted. The allegation is that South‑South News funneled money and was part of a bribery conspiracy at the UN. There is a photograph of the Secretary‑General receiving a… from Mr. Frank Lorenzo an award statue in October… on October 2011 after a… an event. What's the status… what… either, do you have any comment or, more specifically, just, logistically, is there any thinking within the Secretariat of what should be done with… with gifts given by… by this now controversial organization, part of the indictment?
Spokesman: As you know, we are conducting an audit of the relationship between a number of those people who were named in the indictments and UN entities. That is ongoing. Hopefully, it should be finished soon, and we'll see where that leads us. Okay. Let me get our guests.