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

15 February 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Security Council

The Secretary-General spoke at the Security Council meeting this morning on the UN Charter, telling the Council that the past year saw important steps to uphold the values and advance the vision set out in the Charter of the United Nations.  However, he added, we must also recognize that 2015 was one of the most troubled and turbulent years in recent history, with civil wars ravaging Syria and Yemen and violent extremism spreading.

The Secretary-General noted the importance of Article 99 of the Charter, saying that whether or not Article 99 is formally invoked may be secondary.  First and foremost, he said, is the responsibility to alert the Council when he sees situations that require its engagement.  

When considering which items reach the agenda of the Security Council, the Secretary-General said that his further hope is that we will be driven by the Charter, not by geopolitical rivalries or other external dynamics.  When a Member State uses an overly broad definition of terrorism to monopolize power at the risk of long-term stability, he added, that would seem to merit the Council’s attention, as would massive loss of life and cross-border flows of people.  His remarks are available in our office.

**Canada

As you know, the Secretary-General wrapped up his visit to Canada on Saturday. Before leaving for New York, he met with representatives of the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake in Montreal, and he discussed with them the importance of the Forum on Indigenous Peoples and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Following that, he visited the Centre for Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence.  Addressing Montreal’s Mayor, Denis Coderre, and other officials at the Centre, the Secretary-General said that when we put human rights at the centre of our response to violent extremism, we can succeed in opening a safer and more stable future for all.

**Libya

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya, Martin Kobler, welcomed the announcement by the Presidency Council yesterday regarding the formation of the Government of National Accord.  He congratulated the Presidency Council on this major breakthrough, which promises a new beginning for Libya.

Mr. Kobler called on all members of the House of Representatives to assume their responsibilities under the terms of the Libyan Political Agreement and to do what is right for Libya and its people by endorsing the proposed Government of National Accord.  He said that this is an historic opportunity for peace that should not be missed.

**Mali

From Mali, just to update you on the complex attack on the UN Mission camp in Kidal on Friday, 12 February.

Since then, two more wounded peacekeepers have unfortunately died.  This brings the number of casualties to seven peacekeepers, all from the Guinean contingent.  The Secretary-General called the Guinean President to offer condolences.

On Saturday, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, and the Force Commander, General Michael Lollesgaard, visited Kidal.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative will fly with the remains of the deceased peacekeepers to Guinea on Wednesday.

**Central African Republic

The UN Mission in the Central African Republic, MINUSCA, reports that the second round of presidential elections and the re-run of legislative elections took place yesterday in a calm atmosphere and without any significant incident.

During voting, the leadership of the UN Mission as well as the international community visited polling stations.

Vote counting began yesterday, with preliminary indications suggesting a lower nationwide voter turnout compared to the last election.  Tally sheets are expected to reach the Data Processing Centre in Bangui within 72 hours.

The Mission assisted the national authorities in securing the election process and transporting the electoral materials.

**Repatriation

We have an update on the repatriation of the battalion from the Democratic Republic of the Congo from the Central African Republic — which we announced in January.

The DRC Formed Police Unit was repatriated on 15 January.  The repatriation of the DRC battalion in Bambari will begin on 25 February.  In the meantime, the Mauritanian infantry battalion that will relieve it is completing its deployment.  Currently, some 208 Mauritanian soldiers are in Bambari.  The rest of the Mauritanian soldiers will be deployed in the coming days before the Congolese peacekeepers leave.

Meanwhile, a team from the Republic of Congo arrived in the country to investigate recent allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against their troops.  We expect the Republic of Congo company of 120 soldiers, who are currently confined to barracks in Berberati, to be repatriated before the end of the month once the investigation has been completed.

The UN is committed to the enforcement of the zero tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse and will continue to take all measures necessary to that effect.

**Afghanistan

The number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan in 2015 is the highest recorded, according to the latest Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict produced by the UN Assistance Mission (UNAMA) together with the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR).

The report, released today, documented more than 11,000 civilian casualties last year, exceeding the previous record level from 2014.

It cites increased ground fighting in and around populated areas, along with suicide and other attacks in major cities, as the main causes of conflict-related civilian deaths and injuries in 2015.

Nicholas Haysom, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, called the harm done to civilians “unacceptable” and called on those inflicting this pain on the people of Afghanistan to take concrete action to protect civilians and put a stop to the killing and maiming of civilians in 2016.

**Myanmar

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that it has received reports that more than 3,000 people have been displaced in Myanmar’s northern Shan State in the past week.

Most of these people are seeking shelter in monasteries and are receiving assistance from local organizations, local authorities, and the Myanmar Red Cross Society.

The United Nations is liaising closely with the relevant authorities, and UN humanitarian staff are assessing the situation to identify gaps and provide further aid if needed.

The UN’s priority is to ensure that civilians are protected and that people affected by the conflict receive the humanitarian assistance that they need.

**Haiti

I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on Haiti.

The Secretary-General welcomes the 14 February election by the National Assembly of Haiti of a Provisional President of the Republic.  This election stems from the agreement signed on 6 February between Haitian stakeholders to preserve institutional continuity and further the electoral process.

Welcoming this crucial first step, the Secretary-General encourages all parties to work together towards the implementation of the road map contained in the agreement to ensure the return to constitutional normality.

The Secretary-General expresses his confidence that the stabilization of Haiti and the democratic process will continue in a peaceful and collaborative manner.

**Yemen

The World Food Programme (WFP) successfully delivered food for 18,000 people inside an area undergoing heavy fighting in the central Yemeni city of Taiz where residents are in desperate need of external food assistance.  The convoy entered the area of Al Qahira, carrying 3,000 family rations including vegetable oil, wheat, pulses and sugar — enough for a family of six for one month.

This is the second time WFP has had access to the Al Qahira conflict zones this year.  Taiz is one of 10 governorates in Yemen that are in the grip of severe food insecurity at “emergency” level — one step below famine on the five-point classification scale.  At least one in five households in the area does not have enough food for people to lead healthy lives and many people face life-threatening rates of acute malnutrition.

**Biotechnology

Starting today, the Food and Agriculture Organization is hosting an international symposium on "The Role of Agricultural Biotechnologies in Sustainable Food Systems and Nutrition" in Rome.

Over 500 scientists, representatives of Government, civil society, the private sector, academia, farmers' associations and cooperatives are participating in this scientific conference.

It explores how agricultural biotechnologies can benefit family farmers, particularly those in developing countries, who need to improve nutrition and food systems while facing the challenges of poverty, climate change and population growth.

The main events are being webcast on FAO’s website.

**Honour Roll

For the honour roll:  with a full payment to the 2016 regular budget, Lesotho becomes the 31st Member State to join the honour roll.

**Questions and Answers

That's it from me.  Questions?  Yes, Edie.

Question:  Farhan, thank you.  Does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to the attacks on four medical facilities in Syria, apparently two in Aleppo and two in Idleb that definitely caused casualties?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, on that, what I can say is that the Secretary‑General is deeply concerned by reports of missile attacks on at least five medical facilities and two schools in Aleppo and in Idleb, which killed close to 50 civilians, including children, and injuring many.  Such attacks are a blatant violation of international laws.  Among other consequences, they are further degrading an already devastated health-care system and preventing access to education in Syria.  These incidents cast a shadow on the commitments made at the International Syria Support Group meeting in Munich on the 11th of February.  We must capitalize on the agreements reached and translate them into action if the credibility of, and confidence placed in the International Syria Support Group and the international community are to be justified.  Yes, Joe.

Question:  Yes.  Could you tell us, or if not now perhaps insert it into the record, how many times the Secretary‑General has formally invoked Article 99 during his time in office?  And secondly, I know he said whether or not Article 99 is formally invoked may be secondary — could you give us some specific examples where the Secretary‑General proactively went before the Security Council to alert it on an item that was not already on its agenda?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  He has brought many items to greater attention even though many of them may have been on the agenda.  You'll have seen, for example, the concerns he raised about the potential attack on Benghazi in Libya several years back at a time when the Council was in consideration of this.  You'll have seen the concerns he raised about Côte d'Ivoire where we had a peacekeeping mission but where there were increasing concerns about the situation on the ground.  There have been any number of times when he's done that.  As you've probably been aware, since the early days of the United Nations, the number of times that Article 99 has been specifically invoked has actually been quite few, and there have been none in recent years to report.  But, as I also mentioned at the start of this, at this briefing, it's not, it's not the most important point whether Article 99 is itself invoked or not but whether he can alert the Council to situations that require its engagement, and that is something that he's been doing.  Yes.

Question:  Thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask you about Central African Republic.  I heard your, your announcement, but I wanted to ask you about new allegations known to the UN of sexual abuse and exploitation revealed in an email dated February 11th   They went all the way up to the, you know, top of, of the UN peacekeeping, about four minors sexually abused in Ouaka prefecture there.  Basically, the ASG Banbury was saying that this, the implicated battalion should cease operations today or the reputation of the UN will further tarnished.  What's being done about those rapes?  What is the response of DPKO to the proposal by Mr. Banbury that they cease operations immediately rather than continue as you've described?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, regarding the latest allegations, those are being investigated.  We are aware of the allegations and those are under investigation.  Regarding what we're doing with troops that have been of particular concern for us in recent days, I said at the start of the briefing, before we got to the questions, what we're doing about the latest deployments.  And so you can refer back to what I said on that.

Question:  No, I know.  I mean, I'd actually asked over the weekend DPKO for just that answer.  But what I'm asking you is, I guess, does this mean DPKO disagrees with the now… you know, leaving Anthony Banbury, that, in fact, even having kept them until February 25th is too long?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think what I've said just a second ago about repatriation is self‑explanatory.  There are actions being taken right now in terms of repatriations about the contingents that we are talking about.  So I would refer you back to the details that…

Question:  I'm just saying they're inconsistent…

[cross talk]

Deputy Spokesman:  The contingents from the DRC and the Republic of Congo.

Question:  Right, but they're inconsistent with what he said.  So, basically, what he said is being rejected… 

Deputy Spokesman:  We are doing the very best we can to address concerns about the troops.  We believe that some troops need to be confined to barracks, and they have been confined to barracks.  We believe that other troops need to be repatriated as quickly as possible, and we're repatriating them as quickly as possible.  This is a country that's experienced many years of warfare.  It's still facing a very ominous situation from the fighting forces on the ground.  So it's difficult to do some of the things we need as quickly as we can, but we're taking this very much — very seriously and very much to heart, and we're trying to make sure that no one who is accused of these serious allegations is in charge of vulnerable people.  And we want to make sure that the sort of concerns expressed by Mr. Banbury and others are, are themselves reflected in our actions on the ground.

Question:  I have one more question on this, which is, can you just yes or no… 

Deputy Spokesman:  Sure, and then we'll move on. 

Question:  Thank you.  Absolutely.  I just wanted to know, maybe you know this or maybe you can find this out, whether there was any commun… in terms of incorporating these DRC and Republic of Congo troops into the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR, whether there were any communications between the Government of France and DPKO to that effect?  Or the two Governments concerned to… yeah, well, I'm asking about the UN side.

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not aware of what those, what such communications would be.  Of course, whenever we take decisions on troops, those are communicated with the countries directly involved. Yes.

Question:  Farhan, can you tell us exactly what new allegations the UN is investigating?

Deputy Spokesman:  Currently, they're being investigated, but I think at the start, I've talked to you about the concerns that we're doing in terms of the actions we're taking with the troops from Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  So that is part and parcel of the actions we're taking.  Meanwhile, before we can announce any details, we'll have to see what, what our initial look into this discloses.  Yes.

Question:  Thank you.  And apologies if I've missed this, but I believe that Fiji has become the first country to ratify the Paris climate agreement, and I'm not sure if you've had a comment on that.  And are you still on track to reach the 55 countries needed?  And also, a bit on the wording.  Is "ratify" really… "ratify" seems to be the word that's being used, but is it really appropriate considering it's an agreement and not a treaty?  Thanks.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding the Paris agreement, you're aware that in April there will be a signing ceremony, and we do hope and expect that Governments will be present at the highest level so that they can sign on to this agreement and start the process by which it can be — by which it can enter into force.  So that's what we're looking forward to as the next big event on this.

Question:  Where?

Deputy Spokesman:  That would be here.  Yes.  In April, like I said.  Yes.

Question:  Regarding the Guineans who were killed in Kidal, how many — you said it's total now seven.  How many of those were women?  I know there was at least one woman.  Is she the first peacekeeper, female peacekeeper to be killed in an attack?  And… and where were these wounded, killed, etc., medevaced to?  Thanks.

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't know where they were evacuated to; we'll check up on that.  Sadly, these are not the first female peacekeepers to be killed.  In fact, just a few weeks ago, in Haiti, I believe we lost two female members of the UN Mission there, MINUSTAH.  I don't have the breakdown of, in terms of… by gender of the seven dead, but all the seven peacekeepers were from Guinea. Yes.

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Just to clarify, when you were speaking about attacks on Syrian schools and hospitals, did you say 15 or 50 at least dead?

Deputy Spokesman:  50 as in 5‑0, not 15.

Question:  Okay.  And the second question, please.  The Human Rights Council from Geneva, the experts from the Human Rights Council, asked the United Nations officially to notify DPRK that its leader can be, like, investigated for crimes against humanity.  Have United Nations sent such report or such a request to DPRK?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think that's really a question for our colleagues in Geneva.  That would be a decision for the Human Rights Council to make, and regarding how it communicates its own decisions, that's not something that we handle from here. Yes.

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  Thank you.  Mula with Kosovo National Television, TV21.  Follow‑up on that rape issue.  That brings up the issue of more than 20,000 women that been raped in Kosovo during the war, 1998‑99.  Is anything happening?  Is any investigation going on, or can this be treated from the special court?

Deputy Spokesman:  In terms of actions on this, I believe we had referred back to this some years back when the allegations first surfaced.  I don't really have anything to add in terms of actions that are being taken by the United Nations.  Of course, some of the situations involving… involving the situation in Kosovo have been looked at by different courts, but this would precede the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, whose statute did not go in effect until after those events, so it wouldn't be a case for them.

Question:  So how, how… what's going to happen?  Even today, we don't have anyone that was put to… to… to… to… to be… to answer for those crimes that they were done.

Deputy Spokesman:  I wouldn't want to speculate on what would happen next, because it's a question of what… of what jurisdiction would apply.  But as you know, the High Commissioners for Human Rights over the years have talked about the need for follow‑up on this, and we hope and expect that the authorities on the ground will follow up on these extremely serious allegations.

Question:  Can you look into this, if the special court that is going to be formed in Hague, would this be addressed from that court?

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said, the International Criminal Court, its statute came into existence after 1999, so it wouldn't have the temporal jurisdiction over the events that preceded its establishment.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks again.  The question of the negotiations on Syria that should be resumed on February 25th, is it still the workable date given the fact that, over the weekend, Turkey shelled the positions held by Kurdish forces north of Syria, and there are still discussions on possible troops deployment on Syria?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's not just workable, it's essential that we get the peace talks going again as soon as possible.  So we are certainly aiming for this.  Staffan de Mistura had made clear that he wanted them to be resumed by February 25th at the latest, and he was hoping that it could even be earlier than that.  Of course, the developments on the ground continue to be worrying.  We continue to be concerned about the fighting and the level of fighting that's been going on.  But it's essential to get the parties back to the table, and Mr. de Mistura and the UN as a whole will continue to push for talks to begin on the 25th and even sooner, if at all possible.  Yes.

Question:  The follow‑up of my previous question about this 50 casualties on the attacks on hospitals, is that information you got from Médecins Sans Frontières or OCHA, or what agencies reported about 50 casualties?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we have information from a number of sources, including, by the way, from UNICEF.  Two of the medical facilities attacked were supported by UNICEF.  And Anthony Lake, the Executive Director of UNICEF, has come out with a statement about this, where he added, by the way, that, apart from compelling considerations of diplomacy and obligations under international humanitarian law, let us remember that these victims are children.  Some of these were facilities for children, including a child in maternal hospital where children were reportedly killed.  Hold on.  Let me get around, and I'll get back to you.  Yes.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  Okay.  Great.  I wanted to ask you about Yemen and the UN envoy on Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.  I've been told that there… members of his team that are basically working out of their homes for salaries as high as $15,000 a month.  So I wanted to… which apparently has drawn some interest from OIOS.  I wanted to ask you to confirm that there are individuals who for now, I guess, will remain unnamed, based out of Lebanon, London, Mecca and Sweden who have been getting full salaries for the work of this envoy, and I wanted to know how much time a week are they putting in given that there have been no talks, and what are the, what are the… either provisions for partial pay or for working on other projects?  Is it true that you can work from your home on this, this project at those rates of pay?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, it's not a project.  These are negotiations.  The whole idea is for people around the world to work with the various parties trying to get the negotiations on track.  It's a frustrating process.  As the process in Syria has been, but we're continuing.  And the Special Envoy is continuing with his own diplomatic efforts, and he has been travelling throughout, including recently in Riyadh, trying to get the parties to get to face‑to‑face talks.  Regarding, regarding contract arrangements, I'm not aware of what the contract — the specific contract arrangements are for… Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed's team.

Question:  But I mean, is the office based here in New York?  What would be the rationale for having people based out of London and Sweden on this file?

Deputy Spokesman:  There are people based in the region, and then there are people based here in New York.  Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed has travelled extensively.  He's frequently worked out of our offices in Jordan and… but he's also come over to New York.  I believe his intention is to be coming to New York within the next week or so, so that he can brief the Security Council on the latest developments.  Yes.

Question:  Actually, I have two follow‑up questions.  One is to Matthew's question:  can you tell us how many contractors and/or employees there are working on the Yemen initiative outside of the region, outside of that specific region, for example, in New York, London, etc.?  And my second follow‑up question is Olga's… maybe I missed this, but does the UN have any information as to who was responsible for these attacks in Syria on the hospitals and, you know…

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have anything to say further to what I've already said about the attacks on the Syria hospitals.  That's as much information as we have to share at this point.  Regarding the staff in Yemen, you know, I don't have contractual arrangements and information at hand, but I'll check and see whether there's anything we can get.  Yes.

Question:  Thanks again.  You said that information on casualties comes from UNICEF, and you read the statement from Anthony Lake.  We got this press release, and there is no number.  There is no numbers, no casualties in Anthony Lake's statement.  There's also a statement that there are children dead, but not like 15 or 50 dead.  So is it only from UNICEF that you get this information?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have information from a number of sources, including Médecins Sans Frontières and others, but like I said, the figures we have is close to 50 civilians, including children.  Yes.

Question:  I wanted to ask you on Burundi, one, there are reports of these grenade attacks and killings over the weekend, but there was also… I've seen a UNDSS document from Saturday informing all UN staff to cease their movements in light of a demonstration that was taking place that day.  And since it was a demonstration that was organized by the ruling party and many people said it involved hate speech.  And what I'm wondering is, did this DSS directive to basically to stay out of the way of the ruling party's rally apply to human rights observers and others who… and what is the response of the UN system on the grou… you know, there to reports of… of hate speech including to kill people?

Deputy Spokesman:  Of course, you're aware of our regular concerns, which are frequently expressed against all hate speech.  We want all parties to avoid any form of incitement, and we made that clear with regard to Burundi several times in our recent communications including the reports to the Security Council.  Regarding… regarding the work of our human rights team, that would go on regardless of the concerns of our Department of Safety and Security.  The whole point of those concerns is to make sure that staff take care of their own welfare.  But it's not designed to impede the work of our Human Rights Officers.

Question:  I'm just asking because the thing that went out said “soyez prudents”, all UN staff members to limit their movements… you know, so was there some carve‑out for human right observers or not?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's expected all essential work will be done regardless of the security concerns that we express.

Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.