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

26 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  As mentioned, we will have the President of the General Assembly briefing here at 1 o’clock.  And after we are done with my part of the briefing, we will be joined by Jean-Paul Laborde, the Executive Director of the [United Nations Security Council] Counter-Terrorism Executive [Directorate] (CTED), who will be here to brief you on the committee’s latest report.

**Refugees and Migrants

I will start off with a statement on the situation of refugees and migrants in the Balkans.  The Secretary-General is following with great concern the increasing number of border restrictions along the Balkan land route, including in Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.   

Such border restrictions are not in line with the 1951 Refugee Convention [Relating to the Status of Refugees] and its 1967 protocol because individual determination of refugee status and assessment of individual protection needs are not made possible.

The Secretary-General notes that the number of asylum seekers entering Greece from Turkey continues unabated, and that the border closures are creating a difficult situation in Greece.  Meanwhile, Turkey is already hosting in excess of 2.6 million refugees and asylum seekers.   

The Secretary-General is fully aware of the pressure felt by many European countries.  However, he calls on all countries to keep their borders open, and to act in a spirit of responsibility sharing and solidarity, including through expanding legal pathways to access asylum.

The Secretary-General recalls that the vast majority of refugees are hosted by developing countries.  There is a real need for responsibility sharing at the global level.  This will be one of the key issues in the General Assembly's Summit on large movements of refugees and migrants — that will be held in New York on 19 September.

And on the same subject — UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, are joining forces to set up special support centres for children and families along the most frequently used migration routes in Europe.

Twenty Child and Family Support Hubs, to be known as “Blue Dots,” will provide a safe space for children and their families, vital services, play, protection and counselling in a single location.  The hubs aim to support vulnerable families on the move, especially the many unaccompanied or separated children at risk of sickness, trauma, violence, exploitation and trafficking. 

The first hubs are now operational or about to open in Greece, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia.  All 20 will be operational within the next three months.

The two agencies said that women and children account for two thirds of those crossing to Europe.  And last year, more than 90,000 unaccompanied or separated children registered and applied for asylum or were in care in Europe — more information online.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

I want flag some travels by the Secretary-General starting next week to Geneva and Madrid and then on to Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Algeria, including Tindouf, Rabouni and Algiers.

On Monday, 29 February, in Geneva, he will address the Human Rights Council on the first day of its thirty-first session.  He will also designate the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, led by UN Messenger of Peace Daniel Barenboim, as a United Nations Global Advocate for Cultural Understanding.  As you may know, this orchestra brings together young musicians from Israel, Palestine and several Arab countries.

Also in Geneva, he will inaugurate the Russian Room at the Palais des Nations with Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister.  And he will also meet with a number of non-governmental organizations representatives.

On Tuesday, 1 March, the Secretary-General will travel to Madrid, Spain, where he is scheduled to meet the Foreign Minister.

The following day, the Secretary-General will go to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.  On Thursday, 3 March, he will meet with the senior Government officials and visit a UN project.

On Friday, 4 March, he will travel to Nouakchott, in Mauritania, and there he will meet the Government leaders and deliver a keynote speech on peace and security in the Sahel region, and also likely visit a UN project.

From Mauritania, he will then travel on to Tindouf, in Algeria, to visit a nearby Sahrawi refugee camp.  He will meet the Secretary-General of the Frente Polisario in Rabouni.  He will also meet with UN staff working in the area.  From there, he will visit the Bir Lahlou team site of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Western Sahara, known as MINURSO.   

Finally, on Sunday, 6 March, and Monday, 7 March, the Secretary-General will be in Algiers to meet senior-most Government officials.  During his visit to Algiers, the Secretary-General is also expected to open the fifth General Assembly of the Kigali International Conference on the role of security forces in combating violence against women and girls, and also speak to university students.   

**Security Council

And at 3 p.m. this afternoon, the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, as you know, will brief the Security Council, just hours in advance of the expected cessation of hostilities that will go into effect at midnight tonight in Syria.

Mr. de Mistura will then hold a press conference in Geneva immediately after his presentation and that press conference will be available for you to watch on the UN webcast — webtv.un.org — and probably after 4:30 p.m. or so this afternoon.

And earlier today, the Security Council approved a resolution extending the mandate of the UN office in Guinea-Bissau for twelve months, until [the end of] February 2017.

**Responsibility to Protect

Meanwhile, the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, today spoke at the General Assembly thematic panel debate on the responsibility to protect.

He said that 10 years after the adoption of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, individual States and the international community continue to fail in their responsibility to protect.  He added that we continue to see a number of situations in which people are suffering horrendous abuse.  He added that some of them may well constitute genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Mr. Eliasson stressed that this is a clear indication that we require an urgent and fundamental shift on how we approach our responsibility to protect in order to fulfil the commitments made in 2005.

He underlined three priorities to help move the responsibility to protect agenda forward — to do better at prevention; to respond faster and more decisively; as well as to do more in peacebuilding, both financially and politically.   


And Ján Kubiš, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq strongly condemned the attack on Rasul Al-Azam mosque in Baghdad on Thursday.  He said that it was an utterly despicable act of wanton savagery against peaceful worshipers, which is clearly intended to incite sectarian violence.

He called on the authorities to do everything in their power to bring the criminals who are responsible to account.  Full statement is available on UNAMI’s (United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq) website.

**South Sudan

And from South Sudan, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Kyung-wha Kang, concluded today a two-day visit to the country.  She called on all parties to the conflict to protect civilians and grant safe and unhindered humanitarian access.  Ms. Kang was part of the Secretary-General’s visit to the country yesterday.  She stayed on and met humanitarian partners and also visited Malakal, following the violence that took place there in the UN protection of civilians site.

She said she was outraged by what she saw: civilians who had sought safety in the site had been attacked, killed, traumatized and displaced once more, and whole sections of the compound has been systematically burnt down and destroyed.  She appealed to the international community to act immediately to avert an even greater tragedy in South Sudan, as humanitarian needs are higher now than ever.

And also on South Sudan regarding Pibor, the UN Mission (UNMISS) says that the situation in that area has stabilized.  However, it warns that insecurity is likely to persist unless a durable political solution is found to solve the leadership crisis within the Murle group.

The Mission further reports that the recent fighting has resulted in the looting of offices belonging to international non-governmental organizations, including Doctors without Borders and Catholic Relief Services.  And humanitarian workers, as a consequence, have been withdrawing from the area.

Some 2,000 civilians have sought shelter at the UNMISS base.  The Mission continues to engage political actors at a number of levels, both on the ground and in Juba, to help to de-escalate the situation.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Just a couple more notes — the High Commissioner for Human Rights says that [harassment of] civil society organizations continues as democratic space shrinks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — with six members of the LUCHA movement sentenced to two years in prison by the district Court of Goma on Wednesday.

Activists were arrested on 16 February by police authorities in Goma in an apparent bid to prevent their participation in and reduce public support for a “ghost town” day organized across the country by opposition parties and civil society organizations.


And our friends at OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) report that El Niño-induced drought in Swaziland has left at least 300,000 people — a third of the national population — in dire need of assistance, especially of food and water, according to our humanitarian partners.

The risk of waterborne diseases and malnutrition has also risen, due to the water shortages and poor sanitary conditions.  According to the Government of Swaziland, [over] $80 million is required for life-saving programmes and to mitigate the impact of the drought.

**Questions and Answers

And that’s it.  I have already told you about the press briefings.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  With regard to the Special Envoy, Mr. de Mistura, briefing the press tonight in Geneva, why we cannot have a video link since the infrastructure is already existing in the Organization…?

Spokesman:  Well, I think you'll be able to watch…

Question:  I mean… no, no, we need to interact.

Spokesman:  I understand, but, you know, we're… he's doing the press conference in Geneva.  I think it is probably simpler to keep it by correspondents there asking the questions.  And, as I said, you're welcome to watch it on the web.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask about the… this incident in Mali where Chadian… one Chadian peacekeeper killed two other peacekeepers.  One, what… it says that it's based on tensions in their contingent.  Is it based on the conditions there?  Why didn't you announce it from the podium if two peacekeepers are dead?  And also I wanted to ask what the Secretary‑General's goals are for this Western Sahara trip.  What is he seeking to come out of it?  Does he… would he like to see a referendum with independence as a goal?  What's he go into it looking at?  Thanks.

Spokesman:  Obviously, the… you know, a lot… a large focus will be on the humanitarian situation.  He'll be visiting the camps near Tindouf, and it is also part of his preparation, obviously… he will report on the trip in his upcoming report, which is scheduled for April.  On the incident, yes, there was a press release issued this morning by the Mission in Kidal.  There was a shooting incident in the camp yesterday within the Chadian contingent.  One soldier opened fire, killed one of his colleagues.  Another one was wounded and later succumbed from his injuries.  As for the… the perpetrator was detained and is in custody, and there's an investigation going on.

Question:  I guess I'm asking because there… there… there are even some Security Council or recent Security Council members have said that the conditions for particularly the African contingents in Northern Mali are quite negative.  But I also… I repeat the question.  Is… is it the norm to… to announce here… not by a press release from Bamako, but here, when peacekeepers are killed, and if so… why didn't that happen in this case?

Spokesman:  Well, I'm confirming it now, and as I said, the announcement was made very publicly from the Mission in Kidal… in the Mission in Mali.  The conditions for peacekeepers in Mali, especially in the north, are extremely challenging.

Question:  Are the conditions… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I'll come back to you.  Sherwin?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  A question on the South African battalion's withdrawal from UNAMID (United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur).  How concerned is the Secretary‑General by this withdrawal?  And what does it say about the future viability of this Mission in Sudan?  Our understanding, from the South African Government, is that this is not just a reallocation of resources.  This is due to whole‑hearted frustration in terms of being unable to fulfil the mandate that they've been assigned, logistical hurdles that make it impossible for them to manage that deployment.  Clearly, there must be knowledge known to the United Nations.  How concerned are you about what this says for the future of the Mission?  And in terms of the replacements you will seek for this battalion, what are you telling TCC's (troop-contributing countries) about the environment under which they operate in Sudan?

Spokesman:  Well, I think the… you know, the environment in which the peacekeepers in Darfur operate is pretty clear for everyone to see.  It's a very challenging environment.  We've had repeated issues with freedom of movement, freedom of access, for the peacekeeping troops.  It's not a secret.  It's something the Secretary‑General has been reporting on and we've been talking about here quite a bit.  We're obviously sorry, and we thank the South Africans for their service.  It is a sovereign decision by the Republic of South Africa to do that.  I think to a question that Matthew had answered… had asked yesterday, the cost of the repatriation is being covered by the UN as per standard practise.  We paid for their deployment, and we pay for their repatriation.

Question:  How viable is this Mission moving forward?

Spokesman:  The Mission is a challenging one.  The UN and its… whether it's on the peacekeeping side, on the political side, is trying to live up to its mandate.  But we also need the Government to be a more positive partner to our work there.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Yeah, I want to follow up on Western Sahara.  So the Secretary‑General's visit in Mauritania and Algeria — he's skipping Morocco.  Is he skipping Morocco based on his own decision on based on a request by the Moroccan authorities?  And second, does he need an authorisation from Morocco to visit the headquarters of MINURSO in Laayoune?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General will not be going to Rabat.  The King will not be there.  Obviously, the Secretary‑General will be delighted to go to Rabat at any time.  It is, of course, the Secretary‑General's right to visit any peacekeeping mission, but there is the de facto authorities in that area would need to provide the clearance for the plane to land.  Yes?

Question:  Stéphane, on this cessation of hostilities, the Russian and the Government airstrikes have intensified in Syria while we got, you know, closer to the hour when the cessation of hostilities will stop.  You know, as we know, we all follow up.  The Russians and the Government in Syria see pretty much all the opposition as terrorists.  Who is going to ensure that the Government and the Russians actually keep their promises?  Who will…  Who will… who will… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I think we have… first of all, I think we've seen, of course, in the last day and today an increase of military activity across the board in Syria.  It's, unfortunately, not surprising, and it happens, in many cases, in the hours prior to cessation of hostilities, there is an increase in military activity.  It's tragic, but it's, unfortunately, not surprising.  We have seen statements by the Russian Federation saying that they would obviously… that they are fully supporting the cessation of hostilities.  We've seen the statements by the Government.  We've seen the statements by the ISSG (International Syria Support Group) members.  The meeting… there is an ISSG meeting focusing on the cessation of hostilities currently going on or just winding down in Geneva.  I am sure Mr. de Mistura will be able to provide more after his meeting with the Security Council.  Yeah?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  So are you saying that the increase of the hostilities is the sign that the ceasefire will actually will take place?

Spokesman:  That's not at all what I said.

Question:  Is it a sign?  Is it a sign that… 

Spokesman:  No, that's your interpretation.  That's not at all what I said.  I said it is… we very much hope and we expect the cessation of hostilities to take hold.  We've seen statements from various quarters which are supporting the cessation of hostilities, but that was not at all my interpretation.

Question:  And I want to ask, since Mr. de Mistura… we don't have access to his press conference to ask him, can you elaborate more of the task force that will monitor the… the… the ceasefire?

Spokesman:  Let's wait for Mr. de Mistura to speak, and again, the ISSG meeting focusing on the cessation of hostilities should be wrapping up now, so they may have something to say.  Oleg?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Any ceasefire or cessation of hostilities will not be effective until there is proper monitoring of the process.  So how is the situation in this regard?  What's happening?  Are there any results from the meeting in Geneva?  And…

Spokesman:  The meetings in Geneva, last I checked, were still ongoing.  Cessation of hostilities, what… the only thing that is required is for people to take their fingers off the trigger.  Right?  That's what it means, and that's what we hope… that's what we hope to see.  Yes?

Question:  Stéphane, is there any information this unaccounted ten pallets in Deir Ezzour?  You said yesterday ten is unaccounted.

Spokesman:  The… I will tell you what my colleagues in… in Geneva from the World Food Programme (WFP) said is that four… four of the pallets had landed in and around the drop zone but had been damaged as the parachutes hadn't opened.  Seven had landed in a no‑man's land and could not be reached.  And the remaining ten pallets are still unaccounted for.

Question:  Stéphane, the last time we asked this question and you said that United Nations has chosen this Russian company, that they are expert on this operation.  So if it's… the expert is doing this, how come United Nations doing this operation…

Spokesman:  Listen, I think one has to give credit to the crews that are conducting airdrops, high‑altitude airdrops, in what is, by all accounts, an active conflict zone, not just on the ground and in the air.  It's a very, very complex operation.  There were unexpected high winds at high altitude, which obviously led to a number of the pallets not landing where they were supposed to be.  There were parachute issues.  I know WFP has full confidence in the company that is doing it.  They've used them in South Sudan.  And, again, I think, as I said yesterday, just one flight is equal to one medium‑size truck.  And this is why WFP and others have always asked for land access.  Airdrops [are] really something of last resort even when done in a relatively peaceful environment.

Question:  Follow‑up…?

Spokesman:  No, let's go back to people who haven't asked a question.  I'll come back to you, Kahraman.

Question:  Thank you.  Just on the trip to Madrid, what issues does the Secretary‑General plan to discuss?  And is it connected to the trip to the Western Sahara?

Spokesman:  Obviously, I'm sure that will be one of the agenda.  The… Spain is a very important partner of the United Nations, notably on the issue of development.  And it also, as you know, hosts a number of United Nations facilities.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Would you consider any crossing to the Turkish/Syrian borders by fighters or armed individuals or groups, would you consider this a violation to the cessation of hostilities?

Spokesman:  It's a good question, but I'm not going to get into that kind of detail right now.  Go ahead?

Question:  Follow‑up.  Thank you, Stéphane.  Follow‑up to my colleague's question on the delivery of humanitarian aid from the air in Syria: Why does the UN give this to a… a company that is from a country that is side to the… to conflict?  Couldn't… couldn't you, I mean, the UN find another partner that was more neutral to deliver the aid?

Spokesman:  Two things.  First of all, there are a lot of countries that are involved one way or another in this conflict.  That's one.  Second, this is a partner that WFP has used in the past, notably used in South Sudan.  As I said, doing high‑altitude airdrops of food is not like ferrying cargo by air from point A to point B.  It's a very delicate operation, one that demands an experienced crew.  This is a WFP contractor.  Civilian contractors signed by UN agencies, whether they're from Russia, the US, or São Tomé and Príncipe, work for the United Nations.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask what I was asking as a follow‑up, and then I want to ask another question that I hope you'll let me ask.  As to Mali, what I wanted to know is whether the conditions of the Dutch contingent, which is a part of MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali), are similar or different than those of the Chadian contingent, as I previously asked you about their equipment, their communications equipment, that seem to also be different.  So some people look at it and they say it should be one peacekeeping.  How do you explain the different… or do you acknowledge or disagree that…  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I don't know where the Dutch are stationed.  I don't know if they're stationed in Kidal.  The issue of equipment, especially sometimes with contingents, they don't come with enough equipment, creates challenges for DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations).  I know the Chadians have been on the front lines of the UN's work in Mali, have borne the brunt of some of the violence that we've seen.  And I know we and DPKO, everyone, is extremely grateful for what they do.  And I'm sure the Mission does whatever they can to ensure that their conditions are acceptable.

Question:  Okay.  Let me ask this one; I have some other stuff, but I want to… just please bear with me.  It has to do with… yesterday at the Security Council stakeout, the President of the Council, Venezuela, asked about press freedom at the UN and said, I hope you get your office back.  I'm asking you, are you aware of this?  And the reason I'm asking you is, you often from this podium say, it's an institution of member… it's an institution of Member States.  We'll say, why doesn't Ban Ki‑moon stop taking such‑and‑such peacekeepers who are known to be sexual abuse and you'll say, well, it's up to Member States.  So this is the President of the Council.  And I'm wondering, do you take note of it?  The Staff Union has also issued a same call, so my question behind it is this.  I'm looking at an article that came out during the briefing, admittedly, in Business Insider.  It quotes… it has your office.  It says I was thrown out of my office and into the street because…

Spokesman:  Matthew, what is the question?

Question:  Okay.  My question is this.  My question is as follows:  Is it true that, as part of this investigation that never involved talking with me once, as now acknowledged by DPI (Department of Public Information) to Business Insider, that your office spoke with them?  And if so, what did you say?

Spokesman:  That who… spoke with whom?

Question:  It says right here.  It says that a spokesman for DPI said that it wasn't necessary to speak with me because they spoke… DP… quote, DPI also spoke at length with the Office of the Spokesman.  He's quoting you.

Spokesman:  Matthew, Matthew, Matthew… [cross talk] As much as I trust what you're reading, I would like to read what you're reading from first.

Question:  Okay.  Will you give me an answer today?

Spokesman:  Second of all, I know the Mission of Venezuela was in contact with the Department of Public Information, and all their questions were answered.

Question:  Not true.

Spokesman:  Matthew… [cross talk]

Question:  Darrin Farrant told them nothing would be changed.  That's a direct quote.

Spokesman:  Matthew, I'm done.  Thank you.  Go ahead?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Thank you.  Now, my question is about Syria again.  I spoke with Mr. de Mistura's office the other day, and they told me that the UN was not involved in the negotiation process of the cessation of hostilities.  Where are you now in the implementation of this, Stéphane?  Where does the UN stand?

Spokesman:  Well, I think… first of all, as I said, Mr. de Mistura will brief the Council.  I think you'll have more answers afterwards.  The cessation of hostilities task force is led and co‑chaired by the Russian and the US.  And they are in the lead and were obviously extremely present.  Abdelhamid then Oleg.

Question:  Last Saturday, Stéphane, there was a school of six classes located near the settlement Maale Adumim.  In the middle of the night, the Israeli dismantled the school.  About 40 kids came in the morning of Sunday to go to… back to their school.  They found no schools, no walls, no desks, nothing.  That is to give room for establishing a settlement in the area which is called E1, which the SG expressed concern about that.  Is the Secretary‑General aware of this dismantling of the school?

Spokesman:  I have not seen… I will look into that particular incident…

Question:  And is [Nickolay] Mladenov also aware of it?

Spokesman:  As I said, I personally am not aware of it.  I had not heard about it.  I will check and see if Mr. Mladenov was aware.  Oleg?

Question:  Stéphane, while in Geneva, will Ban Ki‑moon take part in any activities on Syria?  There's possibility of resuming talks next week.  Anything?

Spokesman:  Obviously, he has… I'm sure he will… he will discuss Syria with Foreign Minister Lavrov.  We'll see if anything comes up in terms of meetings.  Evelyn?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Syria has called elections in April.  Is that a… is there any reaction to that?  Is that feasible in the middle of this mess?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, obviously, we want to see a cessation of hostilities.  And it is up to the Syrian people to decide on their own future.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Stéphane, in the last 48 hours, there was another… the Kurdish forces are saying there was another chemical attack against Peshmerga in Iraq.  This is going to be like near 40 or 41 attacks against the Kurdish and Iraqi forces by ISIS using chemical attacks.  And OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) still didn't officially declare despite the… the… the… all the sources are talking about they have evidence, didn't declare the confirmation that ISIS is using chemical weapons in Iraq.  Can you tell me, what is the reason behind this delay?

Spokesman:  I will ask our colleagues at the Joint Investigative Mechanism, see if they have an update.  In the back, then Matthew, and then we'll stop.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Any update on the issue of the travel of UN official to Colombia because of the…

Spokesman:  No, I was expecting to have something today, but I don't have anything yet.  As soon as I get something, I'll share it with you.  Matthew?

Question:  My other question stands, but I'm moving on for now to Malakal.  And I wanted to ask you, I saw this statement put out by OCHA's Kyung‑wha Kang, that she went there and said, I'm outraged by what I've seen, dot, dot, dot, those responsible for these heinous acts must be held to account.  What I wanted to ask you, given reports that UNMISS knew days before the violence took place that weapons had been smuggled in to the largely Dinka portion of the camp by SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) supporters, what is the process for the UN to review its own… obviously, it's not the… it didn't do the killings, admittedly, but to review its own… for the… for going forward to make sure…  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I can't… I can't confirm that they were aware ahead of time.

Question:  There's an e-mail saying just that.

Spokesman:  Obviously… you have that e-mail.  I don't.  Obviously, the conditions in Malakal are challenging.  There are a lot of people there with a limited number of UN peacekeepers.  I'm sure, after every incident, they try to see how better they can do their work.  Yes, go ahead, then I'll get the guest.

Question:  Is there any update on aid convoys going to Syria?

Spokesman:  No.  As soon as I have something, I will share it with you.

For information media. Not an official record.