The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, excuse us for the delay — we are trying not to interfere with the Security Council President.
I have a statement on Syria. The Secretary-General condemns the multiple bombings that took place on 21 February in Damascus and Homs, claimed by Da’esh. Reports by local monitors state that at least 155 people, mainly civilians, may have been killed and several hundred injured in these terrorist attacks. The Secretary-General extends his deepest condolences to the bereaved families and wishes a speedy recovery to those who were injured. Those responsible for these atrocious and deliberate attacks on civilians must be held accountable. As you may have seen, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, also issued a statement yesterday. And I do expect him to be in New York later this week to brief the Security Council.
Meanwhile, the Secretary-General has arrived in Bujumbura just now for meetings with the key groups in Burundi. He will meet with representatives of civil society and political parties today and he is to meet with President [Pierre] Nkurunziza tomorrow. After his visit to Burundi, the Secretary-General will travel onwards to the Democratic Republic of the Congo — he will be in Goma tomorrow and then onwards to Kinshasa. And later he will travel to South Sudan — to Juba, as we previously announced.
And yesterday, the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, visited Gaziantep, in Turkey, on the Syrian border, to visit refugee facilities in the area and meet with local authorities. During his visit, he witnessed first hand the impact of the Syrian conflict on countries in the region and heard many eyewitness accounts of refugees who have fled across the border. From Gaziantep, the Deputy Secretary-General travelled onwards to Ankara, where he is meeting today with the Prime Minister and other Government officials to discuss the response to the massive refugee flows resulting from the Syrian conflict, among other issues.
And turning to Fiji, the Secretary-General extends his condolences to the people and Government of the country who have been affected by Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston. On the humanitarian front, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that, according to national authorities, 21 people have been confirmed dead and four people are currently missing. Hundreds of thousands of people have been impacted, with more than 8,000 people currently sheltering in over 70 evacuation centres.
Whole villages have reportedly been destroyed on the island of Koro, where a relief and assessment ship is being deployed. The Category 5 cyclone is estimated to be one of the most severe to hit the South Pacific and a 30-day State of Natural Disaster has now been declared.
Also wanted to flag that UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Miroslav Jenča, today concluded a two-day visit to the Maldives. He met with the President, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, as well as other officials in the country. Mr. Jenča’s visit took place at the invitation of the Government of the Maldives [as a follow-up] at the request of the Government made last year by President [Abdulla] Yameen to Secretary-General to assist the Government on dialogue with the opposition political parties. Mr. Jenča welcomed the President’s invitation for political party talks to all parliamentarian [political] parties on 15 February, an invitation reiterated during his meeting with the President on 21 February.
And the Security Council this morning held a closed consultation on the work of the Joint Investigative Mechanism which has been working in Syria. And I think you just heard from Virginia Gamba a few minutes ago.
And from Iraq, Lise Grande, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, expressed deep concern for thousands of civilians who are trapped in Fallujah and in Sinjar district. She asked the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to uphold their obligations under humanitarian law and redouble the efforts to facilitate the evacuation and relocation of civilians to safer areas with food, water and medical care.
The UN is unable to obtain access to civilians in Fallujah city, which remains under the control of Da’esh.n Reports indicate that conditions are deteriorating rapidly. Our humanitarian colleagues are receiving reports of hunger and shortages of medicines, as well as essential supplies. The Humanitarian Coordinator also warned that 520 people, including an estimated 250 children, have been stranded for three months between the military front lines of Sinjar Mountain, in Ninewa Governorate, unable to get food, water, shelter or medical assistance in the depths of winter.
**Central African Republic
And as you may have seen yesterday, we issued a statement on behalf of the Secretary-General congratulating the presidential candidate, Faustin Archange Touadéra, for his victory according to the provisional results. The Secretary-General also extended his appreciation to presidential candidate Anicet Dologuele for the spirit of statesmanship demonstrated through his concession speech. And he calls on all political leaders and national stakeholders to continue to maintain the constructive atmosphere and for all actors to maintain their commitments in line with the electoral Code of Conduct. And he called on the Transitional Authorities to complete the electoral process through the timely holding of the second round of legislative elections.
And the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has received reports that the situation in Wau in Western Bahr El Ghazal has remained tense over the weekend. On Saturday, peacekeepers patrolled the town and noted that shops had reopened and civilians were present in the market. The Mission received reports from Wau Teaching Hospital of a number of dead bodies, as well as patients with gunshot and machete wounds, being brought to the hospital last week.
And our humanitarian colleagues in Darfur say that, despite the multiple requests for access to affected areas in Central Darfur State, the United Nations has been unable to verify reports of significant new displacement of civilians there. This follows an escalation of fighting in the Jebel Marra area since mid-January. In the past week, a small number of humanitarian personnel have been able to reach Nertiti in Central Darfur and humanitarian organizations are also present in the state capital, Zalingei. However, access to affected areas and newly displaced people continues to be denied.
The UN and its partners continue to call on the authorities to grant immediate and unhindered access for independent humanitarian organizations in Central Darfur so that the needs can be assessed and life-saving assistance can be provided. OCHA also says that in North Darfur — which borders Central Darfur — the UN currently estimates that close to 85,000 people, mainly women and children, have fled fighting in the Jebel Marra area in the past five weeks.
**Department of Field Support
And I had been asked about the succession of Tony Banbury and I can tell you in answer to the questions that were raised, that the Secretary-General has, in recognition of her long and successful service in the United Nations, decided to appoint Lisa Buttenheim as Assistant-Secretary-General in the Department of Field Support. Ms. Buttenheim currently serves as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General leading the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Cyprus (UNFICYP), and in that role, participates in the Secretary-General's good offices on Cyprus as deputy to Special Envoy Espen Barth Eide. Given the ongoing negotiations between the sides in which Ms. Buttenheim plays a key role, the Secretary-General has asked Ms. Buttenheim for now to continue with her work in Cyprus and delay her rotation back to New York.
And tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference by Mogens Lykketoft, the President of this very General Assembly.
And today we say thank you to Thailand and the Bahamas for paying their dues, which brings the total up to? Very good, 35 Member States. If you have a question, Nizar, you get the first one.
**Questions and Answers
Question: United Arab Emirates has been deporting dozens of Lebanese on ethnic or sectarian basis, giving them only 24 hours to leave the country, abandoning their jobs, their businesses. Some of them have been there for decades. The only reason given was security reason. How does United Nations view such a violation of human rights?
Spokesman: I haven't seen those reports, but obviously, as a matter of principle, we hold that any operation where people are deported is done with respect of people's human rights and dignity. Masood?
Question: Yes. Yes, Stéphane, thank you. Do you have the so‑called… some sort of understanding on the peace process between Secretary of… US Secretary of State John Kerry and Mr. [Sergey] Lavrov that he announced this morning, do you have any idea…?
Spokesman: So, the peace process between Lavrov and Kerry?
Question: Yeah, do you have any idea as to what is the plan, the peace plan that they have?
Spokesman: You mean on Syria? Yes, well, we're obviously aware of the discussions that have taken place between the Secretary of State and the Foreign Minister. We're waiting for a formal announcement, and then we will have something to say that is more in‑depth.
Spokesman: I… I… well, we're very happy to hear that they would be on the same page. Obviously, we're waiting for an official announcement. Maggie?
Question: Steph, sorry. I missed the very tippy top. Did you say if the SG has arrived in Bujumbura?
Spokesman: Yes, he has arrived in Bujumbura.
Question: Okay. Also, nothing on Uganda elections from this weekend?
Spokesman: You know, I think we've expressed our concerns before the elections. We're waiting for little bit more reporting, and we should have something to say a bit later on this afternoon. Yes, go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. In terms of the ceasefire, what do we expect to see in… to actually apply the ceasefire to get everything ready? One of the biggest concerns is the access for humanitarian aid to the locations like Homs and some areas around Damascus. Is that going to be something that will have a timeline, a process? Do we know how many people will be involved in that process of trying to get humanitarian help to those people?
Spokesman: I think, if I can unpack your question a little bit, obviously, we're waiting to see what happens. What we are talking about is not a ceasefire, but a cessation of hostilities. As soon as the official statement comes out from Mr. Kerry and Lavrov, we should have a bit more idea on the timeline. Obviously, our great hope is that the cessation of hostilities will make the delivery of humanitarian aid much easier. It has been a challenge, because we're trying to deliver humanitarian aid in what is an active conflict zone. We've managed to get a number of convoys in last week. Additional convoys are planned in… planned to go through the following week — in the next few days, rather. Obviously, a halt to the violence would make life much easier for us. Abdelhamid and then Oleg.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I have two questions. And the first is, on Tuesday, Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary‑General of Hizbullah, made a statement threatening to destroy the chemical depots near Haifa. The following day, the Israeli Permanent Representative issued… or sent a strong letter to the Secretary‑General telling him silence is not an option. On Thursday, the Secretary‑General issued a statement condemning the statement of Hassan Nasrallah. Is the statement of the Secretary‑General has do with the response to the Israeli letter, and if… yes or no, but is there any precedent, is there any other example you can cite, that a country… a Member State asks the Secretary‑General to issue a statement regarding some concern to that country? My second question, Mr. Nickolay Mladenov, in his report, he mentioned that the Palestinian lost 137 victims and the Israelis 20. And both numbers are wrong. The Israelis lost about 23. And the Palestinian about 183, at least. So, why he gave very conservative numbers? That's my…
Spokesman: Obviously, on the second question, I trust Mr. Mladenov and our colleagues to use numbers they are able to verify. So, obviously… often, you have different sets of numbers that float around. We're using numbers that verify. The second… the comments that we made here on what Sheikh Nasrallah had said was in reaction to what Sheikh Nasrallah has said. The Secretary‑General receives, on a regular basis, letters from Member States expressing their opinion to him. Oleg?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Any updates on Deir Ezzour drops? When are they going to start? Are they going on? And as I understand it, we're not going to getting… we're not getting any confirmation from you on 27 February as a start of the ceasefire; right?
Spokesman: First of all, we're calling it a cessation of hostilities. Second, we're waiting for an official statement to come out from Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Kerry any moment. And as soon as that happens, we will have our own reaction. On the airdrops, I don't have any update, just to say that, as I mentioned, I think convoys to Moadamiyeh and Kafr Batna are planned in the coming days.
Question: And, as a follow‑up on the cessation of hostilities, was there any prior consultation between the parties themselves? I mean, this… it looks as if it was announced from some other capital or some other country, not from Syria. So, is there enough safeguards from the parties themselves…?
Spokesman: You know, obviously, you know, the members… the ISSG [International Syria Support Group] is being led by the Russian Federation and the United States with the critical participation of 15 other Member States and the UN. They are… we would expect that all those members of the ISSG can bear positive influence under those who are doing the fighting on the ground. And we very much look forward to the formal announcement. Yeah. And then Sylviane.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Can you please clarify the position of Secretary‑General's Special Representative to Cyprus, Ms. Buttenheim? I didn't understand if she has… if she's going to be appointed. Thank you.
Spokesman: So, she is… she has… The Secretary‑General has decided to appoint her as the Assistant Secretary‑General in the Department of Field Service to replace Anthony Banbury, who, as you know, is leaving the United Nations. But, also, given her role in Cyprus, not only as head of peacekeeping, but also deputy to Mr. Eide and given the… the state of the discussions going on now, the Secretary‑General has asked her to stay on in Cyprus for a bit longer and delay her arrival in New York.
Question: So we don't know when she will be here?
Spokesman: No. Okay. Sylviane and then go all the way in the back.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Do we have to expect after the cessation of hostilities on Saturday a deployment of international Blue Helmet in Syria?
Spokesman: No. I think we're jumping a number of steps here. A cessation of hostilities is one where we would expect all those who are engaged in fighting to halt the fighting.
Question: But, the cessation of hostility is in Lebanon. It's not a ceasefire. And we have UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon]… so what is the difference between one and the…?
Spokesman: This is… what we are looking for initially is, obviously, a cessation of hostilities. There is no discussion of sending in UN observers at this very moment. Yes, in the back?
Question: Thank you. A certain presidential candidate in the US has insisted that walls are a proper way to deal with migrants and refugees. Pope Francis considered the idea as not Christian. So, my question is: what does the Secretary‑General thinks of walls in general as a way of preventing migrants and refugees from entering a country? Thank you.
Spokesman: You know, the Pontiff may have inserted himself in the US presidential campaign. I will do my best not to. I think the Secretary‑General's views on the rights of refugees and migrants has been well enunciated by him, in which he says that all refugees and migrants need to be treated with dignity and the full respect of their human rights.
Question: Stéphane, if I may follow up, I specifically wrote “walls”; do you have any opinion?
Spokesman: I think I've answered the… your question to the best of my ability. Carla?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. It was never clear after the February 11th meeting in Munich. The results seemed to be a stalemate, or is this a cessation of hostilities what they decided upon? And as a follow‑up, is there another meeting of the ISSG planned? And as a follow‑up to that, the Iranian Foreign Minister offered to meet with the Saudis. Do you have any information about that, whether anything is going to happen?
Spokesman: Trying to answer your questions backwards, no, on your last question. I think it's a question for the Iranians and the Saudis. I don't know. Obviously, the ISSG meeting… I have no information as to the next ISSG meeting. And from what I recall, the outcomes of the Munich ISSG meeting was to set up a cessation of hostilities as quickly as possible and to have a free and unfettered humanitarian access. Obviously, if we do get an official announcement, that will move in that direction. We were able, as you know, to deliver aid to some of the besieged cities last week. We hope that… very much hope that a cessation of hostilities would allow us a much greater freedom to bring humanitarian aid to those who need it. Ms.…
Spokesman: You know, I think we take it as it comes. Ms. Falk?
Question: The Secretary‑General just put out a statement about the bombings in Damascus and Homs yesterday? No?
Spokesman: Yes, I just did. Yeah.
Question: Yes. And with 155 civilians. Is… has the… has any UN person… it says by local reports by local authorities. Has any UN personnel been able to reach those areas where the civilians are killed?
Spokesman: I'm not aware. I can… I can check. Mr. Barada?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. One question that I… my understanding is that the Secretary‑General was planning to go to Morocco next month, because of the summit of the League of the Arab States, but the summit is cancelled now. Is he still going to Morocco? And is he going any other… to any other parts in that region? And my other question is that the Secretary‑General also has been calling all the States to support the Lebanese Armed Forces, and the Saudi Government decided to suspend its support to the Lebanese army. Do you have anything to say on that?
Spokesman: No, we've seen those reports. Obviously, it is very important that the international community support the Lebanese Armed Forces. Obviously, the Saudis took the decision they did. We hope that that support may also come from somewhere else. On your second… on your first question, we will announce… we may have something to announce in the coming days. But, obviously, the trips are only announced once they're announced from here. And I have…
Question: Can I say something on that trip?
Spokesman: You can't say anything, but you can ask something.
Question: Christopher Ross announced that he's arriving in Algiers on 6 and 7 March.
Spokesman: I understand. I mean, you know, I think we go through this thing every time the Secretary‑General [has a] trip. People announce it. People talk about it. From my point of view, it's official once it's been announced from here.
**Cessation of Hostilities Agreement in Syria
And I do have a statement on the cessation of hostilities agreement in Syria as promised. Masood, if you bear with me two seconds, this may answer the question you wanted to ask. The Secretary-General welcomes the agreement announced today by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, as Co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group Ceasefire Task Force formed in Munich, on the terms of a nationwide cessation of hostilities in Syria scheduled to come into effect on 27 February.
Aware of the lengthy and detailed discussions that preceded this announcement, the Secretary-General believes the agreement, if respected, would constitute a significant step forward in the implementation of Security Council resolution 2254 (2015). It demonstrates the commitment of the ISSG to exert influence on the warring parties to bring about an immediate reduction in violence as a first step towards a more durable ceasefire. It further contributes to creating an environment conducive for the resumption of political negotiations. Above all, it is a long-awaited signal of hope to the Syrian people that after five years of conflict there may be an end to their suffering in sight.
The Secretary-General strongly urges the parties to abide by the terms of the agreement. Much work now lies ahead to ensure its implementation, and the international community, the ISSG and the Syrian parties must remain steadfast in their resolve. The Office of the Special Envoy for Syria stands ready to support implementation of the agreement, both on the ground in Damascus and in Geneva. The United Nations further counts on the cooperation of ISSG members, as all stakeholders jointly set the implementation mechanism in motion. Masood? And then Linda.
Question: Yes. On this statement by the Secretary‑General, would you… you know how much the United Nations will eventually be involved in the process?
Spokesman: At this point, as I said, the office of the Special Envoy and the UN stands ready to assist all the parties, both in Damascus and outside. Obviously, as we get more details, I will share them with you. Linda and then Evelyn.
Question: Regarding the announcement of a possible cessation of hostilities nationwide, can you clarify again which groups have actually signed on to this and how the UN… or what's expected in terms of dealing with the areas that ISIS is in control?
Spokesman: I think about who have signed on to it, that's a question best addressed to the Co‑chairs of the ISSG. We would want to see as soon as there is a cessation of hostilities, access to many places as possible in order to deliver humanitarian aid. Evelyn?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Was there any humanitarian aid delivered over the weekend to the besieged areas? And secondly, Uganda just locked up the opposition leader now that the elections are over, if you have any comment on that.
Spokesman: No, as I said, I think earlier, we're aware of what's happened. I'm waiting for some more information. I'll have something for you later today on the elections in Uganda. On your… the first part of your question, not aware that anything was delivered over the weekend. We have two convoys that are scheduled, as I mentioned, to Kafr Batna and Moadamiyeh in the coming days. Nizar?
Question: Yes, on these people who are deported from different countries, is there any mechanism for them to present their grievance and get some kind of judgment against countries that deport them unfairly?
Spokesman: I think the way to appeal is through the local judicial system.
Correspondent: But, if they are not allowed to…
Spokesman: That's… that's the information I have…
Question: There's no international mechanism?
Spokesman: No, not that I'm aware of. Oleg, then Masood.
Question: Stéphane, the DSG [Deputy Secretary-General] in Turkey, what did he discuss? Did he discuss the situation on the Turkish/Syria border, the latest escalation? What did he call for, and did he see any results of his talks?
Spokesman: Over the weekend, he met with refugees in… along the border, and there are supposed to be political meetings, I believe, today so we should be able to get a readout. Nizar… Masood, sorry.
Question: Stéphane, can you please tell us about the blogger, Mr. Matthew Lee, who has been very active on the internet spewing all kinds of reports, whether false or not? What is the status now?
Spokesman: Mr. Lee has available to him a non‑resident pass for four months and which, last I heard, he had not claimed, but that's what he has available. I know there were reports that we had “seized his files”. Completely untrue. His office remains untouched. And we await him to return so he can vacate his office. Thank you.