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

19 December 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.

**Syria

This morning, the Security Council adopted a resolution in which it expressed its alarm at the continued deterioration of the devastating humanitarian situation in Syria’s Aleppo and the fact that urgent humanitarian evacuations and assistance are now needed by a large number of the city’s inhabitants.

Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien voiced hope that with the passing of the resolution, all parties and those with influence over them will finally and unequivocally ensure that civilians in Aleppo who have suffered so much and for so long are afforded all necessary protection and assistance.

He says that the United Nations is on the ground, monitoring and assisting the displaced people coming out of the remaining besieged neighbourhoods of Aleppo.  We stand ready to scale up our presence and efforts across the entire city, in line with the resolution and international humanitarian law.  This can be done immediately, but only if the parties live up to this resolution and their most basic of legal obligations.

As the number of those dying, displaced and fleeing continues to rise, we need the whole international community to come together to bring an end to this crisis, reiterating the need for a political solution to this crisis.

And just a bit of an update we’ve just received on the situation on the ground:  Evacuations carried out by Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) are ongoing as buses departed from east Aleppo heading towards the Al Rashideen area on the outskirts of West Aleppo and Idleb.  UN teams continue to be present at the Ramousseh checkpoint in Aleppo as the evacuations are ongoing.

After ten hours of waiting, the first round of buses departed from east Aleppo at 11 p.m. local time yesterday, 18 December.

As of 3:45 p.m. today, local time, over 100 buses carrying thousands of people, including men, women and children, have departed from besieged neighbourhoods of Aleppo, with more evacuations expected to continue in the coming hours.

People arriving in Al Rashdeen and Idleb will be met by Syrian and international humanitarian partners of the UN that will be providing displaced people with immediate humanitarian assistance.

Protection of civilians leaving these areas remains the greatest concern.  All remaining civilians must be allowed to safely leave if they so choose.  Access to people in need to provide them with life-saving humanitarian assistance is also urgently needed.

And I can tell you that the World Food Programme (WFP) has rushed in to provide hot meals, bread and food rations to thousands of people fleeing the besieged areas of Aleppo.

**Security Council

Also back here on the Security Council, I wanted to let you know that the Secretary-General has decided to attend this afternoon’s open meeting on South Sudan, where he is expected to deliver remarks on the deteriorating and dangerous situation in the country.  Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien is also expected to speak at the meeting.

Earlier in the day, after the Syria meeting, the Council met on the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) and Afghanistan.

On Afghanistan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Tadamichi Yamamoto, said that Afghan citizens are returning home in record numbers.  He stressed that despite all the efforts by the international community and the Government, a better future is not possible without peace, stressing that the conflict in Afghanistan has no military solution.

This afternoon, the Council will receive briefings by the Chairs of the subsidiary bodies.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Turning to the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the country strongly condemned an attack by the Mayi-Mayi militia in the country’s east, which resulted in the deaths of a UN peacekeeper and a member of the Congolese National Police, as well as the injuries of two peacekeepers.

Maman Sidikou expressed his deepest condolences to the families of the deceased and to the Governments of the DRC and South Africa.

Underlining that attacks against peacekeepers are considered a war crime and that perpetrators will be held to account, he reaffirmed that this heinous attack will not undermine the commitment and determination of the UN Mission (MONUSCO) to fulfil its mandate.  We do expect a statement from the Secretary-General a bit later.

Also on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, our colleagues at the Mission report that the situation across the country is tense, but remains relatively calm in the capital, Kinshasa, as well as in other urban areas.

The Mission says there is a high security presence in the capital, and has also received reports of arrests of demonstrators in Goma in the country's east and is following up on these reports.

MONUSCO has also increased its numbers of its day and night patrols in the country and has deployed mobile assessment teams in the main Congolese cities.  The High Commissioner for Human Rights over the weekend also issued a statement calling for rights to be upheld as the President’s mandate ends.

**Iraq

On Iraq, our colleagues there say that more than 104,000 people are internally displaced as a result of the ongoing Mosul operations, which began on 17 October.

Food and water shortages persist in retaken neighbourhoods of eastern Mosul city, affecting approximately 250,000 people.

Humanitarian partners have continued to provide assistance in affected areas where access allows.  UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) partners are trucking water to eastern Mosul city, delivering approximately 450,000 litres of water per day to some 45,000 people.

Aid agencies continue to support health facilities receiving casualties, but the main centre in Mosul's Zahraa neighbourhood is reportedly overwhelmed, receiving over 1,700 consultations in one day.

**Lebanon

And a couple of things to flag from over the weekend:  You will have seen yesterday evening we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General welcomed the announcement of the formation of a new Government of national accord in Lebanon.

He congratulated the Prime Minister on the swift process and encouraged the country’s political leaders to build on the momentum of national unity.

**Libya

And we also issued a statement on Saturday, which was the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Libyan Political Agreement, in which the Secretary-General commended all Libyans who engaged in the process, in the spirit of reconciliation, inclusion and human rights.

**Iran

And our colleagues at the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) tell us that the head of the agency, Mr. [Yukiya] Amano, met with top officials, including the President, Vice-President and Foreign Minister in Iran.

The Director General’s discussions focused on the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and stressed the vital importance of full implementation by Iran of its nuclear-related commitments in order to make the implementation sustainable.

**Noon Briefing

Just flagging to you that tomorrow, the daily briefing will be delayed by about half an hour.

**Questions and Answers

Carole?

Question:  Stéphane, following up on the Council's vote this morning, how quickly can UN observers be sent to East Aleppo and how many?

Spokesman:  We have on the ground a bit more than 100 UN staff.  Those are mostly… a vast majority are Syrian nationals who've continued to work in the country.  They could start quickly.  Obviously, we're looking at the modalities of exactly how to implement the resolution.  We also have staff from Damascus, who could be moved on a fairly quick notice.  But, obviously, we've always had a problem of access, which would have to be resolved.  And there's also, as you know, staff from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the ICRC also present in Aleppo who, according to the resolution, would obviously be part of this whole process.  Yeah?

Question:  Can I just follow up on in terms of the contingency planning?  How many UN observers could be sent to Eastern Aleppo, is it 100…

Spokesman:  What I'm saying is that we have more than 100 UN humanitarian staff in Aleppo.

Question:  Right.  But not… would all of them go…?

Spokesman:  No, we're looking, obviously, at how many would go in and where and when.  But that's the pool we have to work… we're working from.

Question:  But you don't have any idea of how many you would want to have on the ground in East Aleppo… half of them?

Spokesman:  The resolution just passed.  We are looking at the exact modalities of how to implement it in what is, obviously, a very delicate environment, to say the least.  Majeed?

Question:  Just a follow‑up on that, but before that, there's this breaking news of the Russian Ambassador in Turkey being shot, and there are reports of him being seriously injured or dead.  Do you have any reaction for that?  And the follow‑up on the Aleppo is, how long it would take for the UN… can UN, if gets the permission, send observers inside Aleppo in the next 24 hours or not?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, on the last part of your question, what I told Carole is that we have 100… more than 100… you know, a bit more than 100 UN humanitarian staff in Aleppo, right where they're supposed to be.  We're looking at the modalities of who would go where within the city and how to best implement the resolution.  Obviously, there are security concerns and issues of access that need to be worked out.  If more are needed, people could come in from Damascus on rather short notice.  On your first question, it's clear that we condemn the gun attack on the Russian ambassador to Turkey.  I think no… there could be no justification for an attack on a diplomat, on an ambassador.  We wish him a very quick recovery.  Sorry?  And we very much hope that the perpetrator will be brought to justice.  Joe?

Question:  Yeah.  Again, following up on Aleppo, Syria's Ambassador this morning said that the number of UN monitors and also Red Cross monitors or… or personnel already in Aleppo was, in Syria's view, sufficient.  And he indicated that there would be no need, and implicitly maybe no permission, for additional monitors outside of Aleppo to come into Aleppo.  Now, has that… has that message already been conveyed directly to the UN contacts involved or are you trying to negotiate?

Spokesman:  I can't… obviously, I heard the Permanent Representative.  What I've just laid out is the numbers that we have locally, which is obviously the first order of priority in trying to get people… trying to get the resolution implemented.  As I said, if we need more, there are people that could be moved in from Damascus.  Obviously, the… everything needs to be done quickly.  So those who are already in Aleppo are the first people of choice, so to speak.

Question:  But given the urgency of the situation and, I guess, following up on Carole's question, is there contingency planning or… or… or… or actually immediate efforts to negotiate with the Syrian Government authorities to allow extra personnel from that side of Aleppo, in case they need it?

Spokesman:  I'm not… I don't…  I think we're… I'm not going to go that far at this point.  As I said, the resolution has just passed.  We're focussing on using those people who are in Aleppo.  If more need to be brought in, we have people who are available to go on short notice from Damascus.  Yeah?

Question:  Yeah, just a little more follow‑up.  So you said there are 100, plus or minus, people working for the UN on the ground in Aleppo.  Are those mostly Syrian nationals?

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  Okay.  So… so someone in OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) is doing the negotiations with…

Spokesman:  We have people on the ground, working obviously on the security arrangements.  There are a lot of people with guns, to say the least, in the area.  And we just want to make sure there is as much de-conflicting as possible to allow the UN staff to do their work safely.

Question:  So… so who do you… who does the UN talk with to… to ensure de-confliction?

Spokesman:  We talk to… those discussions are had on the ground, and they talk to the people they need to… they feel… my colleagues feel they need to speak with.

Question:  About how many negotiating…?

Spokesman:  I'm not… I… it's… obviously, I think it's a complicated situation with various armed groups.  Obviously, the Government remains our primary interlocutor for everything that happens in Syria.  But, as you could imagine, it's a rather complicated situation.  Mr. Lee and then…

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Just two seconds, and I'll come back right back to you.  Go ahead.

Question:  Sure.  Follow‑up on Syria and a question on South Sudan.  On Syria, the… the reported burning of buses that were to evacuate injured out of Al Foah and Kefraya, I wanted to know, how many buses does the UN think were burned?  We heard… we… it's been reported to be five.  We heard 25 at the stakeout.  I saw that Jan Egeland tweeted that a driver had been killed.  Some people said that didn't happen.  What is the UN's understanding of what occurred?

Spokesman:  I don't have any updates to share with you on the issues regarding the buses.

Question:  Okay.  On South Sudan, I wanted to know, on Thursday, The Washington Post published a report based on the small arms survey report that UNMISS (United Nations Mission in South Sudan) gave hundreds of automatic weapons to a SPLM (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement)‑in Opposition commander named James Koang, who, in turn, killed civilians with them.  And I'm wondering, since it's pretty outrageous, what is UNMISS' under… explanation for having turned these weapons over?  And even if they say they were under duress, what was their responsibility once they gave these weapons to the civilians that were killed with them and also to… did they ever inform the Security Council?  And what do they do to protect civilians from their weapons they gave to a warlord? 

Spokesman:  I don't have anything to share with you on that.

Question:  I heard that UNMISS has an answer.

Spokesman:  I… they may.  I don't have anything for you on that right now.  Yes, Carole?

Question:  Just again on Aleppo, would it be too optimistic to expect something to happen in the next 24 hours, in terms of anything?

Spokesman:  You know, I think it's… it would be dangerous for me to kind of predict anything.  I think our colleagues who are on the ground are trying to make this work.  We need to give them time to make that happen.  Oleg?

Question:  Yeah.  Staying on the same topic, correct me if I'm wrong, but the staff you have in Aleppo right now are the humanitarian personnel.  Right?  So will there be any additional training for them to work in the active war zone, basically…

Spokesman:  They're already working in an active war zone.

Question:  I know, but they have… will have, like, different mandate over there.

Spokesman:  It's an issue of observing, of monitoring.  I think it's something they can do with new instructions.  I'm not think… we don't need to do… undergo new training.

Question:  And in terms of their security, is there a possibility to send some UN guards or something, or are you going to be relying totally on…

Spokesman:  No, we're relying on all the parties involved to respect the work of United Nations staff members as they implement a Security Council resolution that was unanimously adopted.

Question:  And on a DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) question, I saw there's a meeting scheduled between the Permanent Representative of DPRK and the Deputy Secretary‑General.  What are they going to be talking about?  And will there be any readout…?

Spokesman:  It was done… the meeting was being held at the request of the Mission of the DPRK, so you should ask them what they want to talk about.  And if we have something to share with afterwards, I will be more than happy to share it with you.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  Could you tell us a little bit more about the composition of the Syrian nationals who would, presumably, assume the monitoring responsibilities?  Because I believe the resolution just passed called for "neutral monitors."  So are you… is the UN reasonably confident that these Syrian nationals are not really potentially partisans for the Government or against…

Spokesman:  They…

Question:  They've been vetted?

Spokesman:  Yes, they're working for the UN.  They have the same obligations as international civil servants to work and only take instructions from the United Nations.  Throughout this conflict, it's been Syrian humanitarian workers who have put their lives on the line.  Many have paid for their work with their lives.  We have full confidence in the ability of these UN staff members, who happen to be Syrian nationals, to carry out the duty that's been entrusted to them. 

I've just been given something that I didn't have with me on UNMISS, which I will share with you, which… from the Mission, which says, when UNMISS opened its gates to save lives as the conflict erupted, it applied utmost diligence to disarm and collect weapons and ammunition from people seeking protection.  The Mission worked tirelessly and impartially to save thousands who sought refuge in its camps at the points… protection of civilians sites in the town and avoid an escalation of violence with the forces controlling the area.  Anyone who was armed and seeking for protection was not allowed to enter the UN Compound.  In December 2013, at the early stages of the conflict, some SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) soldiers abandoned weapons outside the UNMISS compound, in order to seek protection inside the compound in Bentiu.  UNMISS collected the abandoned weapons and safely stored them according to its weapons management policy.  In response to direct threats from local SPLA commanders to UNMISS to hand over weapons abandoned by the soldiers, the Mission facilitated the transfer of a limited number of weapons to Major‑General James Koang, who commanded the SPLA 4th Division in Bentiu at the time.  Later in that month, he officially defected to the then newly-established SPLM‑in-Opposition.  Since January 2014, the Mission has also conducted several destructions of weapons and ammunitions that pose risks to the civilian population and UN staff.  The Mission underscores that a political solution is the only viable solution to the crisis, as it continues to implement its protection of civilians mandate in Bentiu and around the country.  

Question:  Follow‑up?

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Do they… I mean, first of all, what's the number of weapons that they handed over?  Small arms survey puts it at… at several hundred automatic weapons so it seems like… it's a large number.  Why didn't they… this whole idea of like stay and deliver or stand and deliver, once they handed the weapons over, what did they do to ensure that they, in fact, wouldn't just be used to kill civilians?

Spokesman:  Well, obviously, the Mission has continued to protect civilians in the… tens of thousands of civilians at its point… protection of civilians sites in Bentiu since then and continues to do so.  I don't have an update on the exact number of weapons we're talking about.

Question:  And just one… I'd asked you whether… whether at the time because it seems like a pretty extreme thing to do to give these weapons.  Did DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) or UNMISS tell the Council… and I ask you because my understanding… I asked Samantha Power about this on Friday, and today the US Mission has said that they're asking the UN for its answer.  So did they not tell… I read from that that they didn't tell the Council.  Is this the kind of thing that the Council should have been told?

Spokesman:  I don't know what was updated in 2013 at the time.  Okay.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about the… the… the… Secretary‑General, after his press conference here on Friday, he spoke at CFR (Council on Foreign Relations), and it's… it's described in The Korea Herald as… as… as ratcheting up criticism of President Park [Geun-hye].  So I wanted to ask for your response to it.  Basically, it says… it has quotes that I… that the South Korean people are very much frustrated and angry about the complete lack of good governance.  They believe the trust and leadership of the country was betrayed.  So is this… is it accurate to call this a ratcheting up of criticism of President Park?

Spokesman:  The analysis I leave up to you and members of the media.

Question:  Right.  Here's a question.  Do you have any… so a related question.  Today, the head of the IMF (International Monetary Fund), Christine Lagarde, was found guilty of misuse of public funds.  Do you have any… does the Secretary‑General have any comment on a UN international system figure being found guilty of misuse of funds?

Spokesman:  Not at this time.  I just saw the story as I was walking in here.

Question:  Okay.  And could I ask you another thing?

Spokesman:  One last.

Question:  Yeah.  Last week, there was a… a… a… statement put out by the… I don't know if it's the old staff union or one of the two staff unions, but it was a pretty… you may have seen if.  Have you seen it?

Spokesman:  Tell me about it.

Question:  Okay.  It was a litany of what they call negative acts on labour but the Secretary‑General.  They fired the first… the first vice president of the staff union.  They attempted to bust the union… he attempted to bust the union.  He voluntarily cut the budget of the organization.  He pushed through mobility and a flawed staff selection process.  He imposed a flexible workspace agreement.  I could go on why they didn't like that one, but he openly and publicly denigrated staff as selfish.  And I do remember that use of word.  So I guess my question is, what's the… there's been a lot of praise, but is there a response to this… it's obviously…

Spokesman:  I think…  The staff…  I think we know what issues exist with the staff unions here.  I think the Secretary‑General has only kind words to say for the staff that he has led over the last ten years and the sacrifice they have made and their families have made.  Thank you.

Question:  And can you confirm that he's filed an appeal to the firing of the first vice president, Emad Hassanin?

Spokesman:  I cannot.

For information media. Not an official record.