The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
I do want to give you an update on the humanitarian situation in Syria. The UN has received reports of the displacement of at least 7,000 people from Syria’s Wadi Barada area due to recent fighting that also resulted in the cut-off since 22 December as the main source of water for Damascus and its suburbs.
An estimated 45,000 people live in the Wadi Barada area. Among the displaced people, over 1,200 families have been registered with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in a transitional centre in Rawda, near Wadi Barada, where they have received emergency assistance. Response plans are being developed, as well as contingency plans if more people are displaced if the fighting continues.
As part of the UN’s water, sanitation and hygiene response in Syria, the UN has rehabilitated and equipped 120 wells in and around Damascus that cover about one third of the city's daily water needs. Since 22 December, those wells have been the sole source of water for the entire city.
Jan Egeland, the Special Adviser on the Humanitarian Task Force for Syria, today pointed to the need to have access to [Wadi Barada, which supplies most of the water to Damascus. Some 5.5 million people in Damascus have had their water cut off.]
Mr. Egeland said that close to 1.3 million people received cross-front-line assistance in 2016, while 420,000 people in besieged areas got assistance from 131 land convoys. On average, in 2016, humanitarian workers reached 21 per cent of the people in Syria who needed aid — an improvement from 2015, when only 1 per cent of those in need got aid, but obviously still very, very far below the targets that we would like to reach.
And new research by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has pointed to which coral reefs will be hit first due to climate change by annual coral bleaching, which poses the gravest threat to one of the Earth’s most important ecosystems.
Coral reefs in Asia and the Caribbean will be among the first to experience this bleaching.
If current trends continue and the world fails to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then severe bleaching will occur every year on 99 per cent of the world's reefs within the century, the research finds.
And I do have one appointment for you: The Secretary-General is announcing today the appointment of Ursula Mueller of Germany as Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). She will succeed Kyung-wha Kang of the Republic of Korea, who as you know is currently serving in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General. And as you recall, Ms. Kang resigned from the post in OCHA last year.
Ms. Mueller has over thirty years of experience in international affairs, global issues and development financing. She has been [German] Executive Director of the World Bank Group since September 2014, and has consistently worked to foster close cooperation between the World Bank and the UN. Her bio is available and will be posted on the website.
Just as I had mentioned to you, the Secretary-General will do a walk-through of the offices on the 3rd and 4th floors tomorrow at 11:15 a.m. and hopefully it will finish before this daily highlight of your day. And I will give you the details of where it will start, but he will try to go around all the offices on those floors.
**Questions and Answers
That's it. Mr Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, it's been reported that the French judicial inquiry into the peacekeeper Serval… peacekeeper Sangaris, Central African Republic's peacekeepers charged with sexual abuse of minors, has resulted in no charges at all. And throughout this process, you'd said that the UN is watching it but leaves it up to the French authorities. Given the level of detail that people came forward and people have seen the memos that Mr. [Anders] Kompass, who was fired, released, what does the UN think of a judicial process that results in no accountability whatsoever…?
Spokesman: You know what? I read in detail the rather long and interesting piece published in France. From what I gather, the… it is now up to the prosecutor to decide whether or not to go forward, with the investigative judges having submitted their results. So, obviously, we'll keep an eye on this. But it's… as we've said, it is the responsibility of Member States to fully investigate and hopefully prosecute crimes. The fight against impunity for these horrendous actions has to be a partnership between the UN and Member States, and we hope every case is fully and thoroughly investigated.
Question: What's the status of the… the 25 Burundian cases referred by OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services) back to the Government, given the UN's decision to bring in 800 more Burundian peacekeeper…
Spokesman: If my understanding is correct, they still have some time with which to submit information back to us, and we look forward to receiving that information. Mr Abbadi and then… sorry.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. As you know, the international conference on the Middle East peace process will open on 15 January in Paris. Is the Secretary‑General going to be attending? If not, who will be?
Spokesman: Sure. I don't have any information on that at this point. As soon as I will, I will share it with you. Yes, go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On the panel that has been set up for the… to submit the draft report on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there is no representation from developing and emerging countries like India, China, Brazil, even though Sustainable Development Goals, how they fare, will depend on how it does in these countries and what… why is this imbalance and why is this… there no equitable representation of key emerging countries?…
Spokesman: I'll have to take a look at the panel closely. As I said, this was a decision taken before 1 January, but it is clear that all voices will need to be heard in putting together this report. And I'm sure the panel will make a special effort to hear and to listen to some voices from the global South and from emerging economies.
Question: Because it's… the majority is from OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, developed countries. I mean… how… yeah.
Spokesman: That's what I have to say on that. Yes, Edie?
Question: Stéphane, the Secretary‑General is meeting this afternoon with the Turkish Foreign Minister. Is there going to be any stakeout, and will there be a readout from…
Spokesman: We will, hopefully, be able to share something with you afterwards. He's meeting with the Turkish Foreign Minister. He's… also will be meeting with, if I'm not mistaken, the Greek Foreign Minister tomorrow. This is part of the lead‑up and the support to the Cyprus talks that will take place in Geneva. As far as a stakeout, I think you have to check with the Turkish Mission what they plan to do. But there's no plan for a joint stakeout. There will be a photo op, but there's no plan for a joint stakeout. In the back.
Spokesman: Okay. Mr Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. And the Secretary‑General has made very important statements regarding his strategy to realize peace in the world, using preventive diplomacy and other means of negotiations. In addition to the press releases, what has DPI (Department of Public Information) done to spread the word worldwide?
Spokesman: You know, I'm not sure how to answer that question. We, obviously, try from here to inform you and inform the greater public through the press. As you know, all the Secretary‑General's speeches and statements are disseminated widely on social media platforms, as well on websites and through our very active network of UN information centres. Mr Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, the Myanmar Government had set up a panel to ostensibly investigate what was happening in Rakhine State, and they've issued their report. And it says that there is "no proof of religious persecution and no evidence of rape," which is contrary to what almost everyone else has found, I believe even the UN itself has found. So what is the response of the UN system… and also, is there a good offices going forward? [inaudible]
Spokesman: No, Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar's work has concluded. It was not renewed for the next year. That is not to say that the Secretary‑General will [not] continue to watch the situation in Myanmar extremely closely. As the UN system as a whole will continue, we are… we have not changed our opinion in terms of what we've seen through the visit in Rakhine State and through various reports that the UN system has spoken about and continue to express our concern at the situation there and in the neighbouring countries as people flee, as we've seen a mass movement of people out of Rakhine State into neighbouring Bangladesh, to mention just one. Okay. Ann?
Question: Ann Charles, Baltic Review. On 2 January, New York Times ran an article entitled "US Lending Support to Baltic States Fearing Russia" and stated that Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania responding to Russia's annexation of Crimea, the war in Eastern Ukraine and the fact that Russia has deployed nuclear‑capable missiles in Kaliningrad, situated between Lithuania and Poland. Do you expect the new UN Secretary‑General, António Guterres, who said he will focus on peace for 2017, or even Sweden, which is part of the Baltic Sea region and now holds the presidency of the Security Council, to say anything about Russian aggression in the Baltic States?
Spokesman: You know, as for Sweden, I think you'd have to ask them. I have no particular comment to make. Obviously, the Secretary‑General and the UN will be as helpful as it can, wherever it can, to defuse any tensions. Ms. Fasulo?
Question: Thank you, Steph. I was just wondering if the Secretary‑General was planning to attend the Davos conference at the end of the month.
Spokesman: We should have some travel announcements coming up for you soon-ish. Ms. Leopold. Sorry. Go ahead, Evelyn, and then…
Question: Did you by any chance get information on what happened to all the men who exited East Aleppo that Syria hauled off?
Spokesman: You know, we're, obviously, concerned at the reports of people having been detained and taken off… detained as they came out of the areas that were not under Government control. And it's something that, obviously, we're keeping a close eye on. Yeah? Mr Abbadi. Hold on. Behind you, please.
Question: Sorry. A recent statement by the Nigerian authority said that more than 2,000 children died because of severe malnutrition. Do you have anything on that? And my second question, will the SG attend Cyprus peace talks in Geneva? Thank you.
Spokesman: Again, we should have some announcements for you on that travel… on those travels very soon. On Nigeria, this is the humanitarian… the very dire humanitarian situation in Borno State and in north-west Nigeria, something that we have been flagging for quite some time. It is… the UN's work there is severely underfunded, and we know the impact that a number of issues have had on the civilian population there, and its… our humanitarian colleagues in Nigeria and other places, I think, have appealed for great… much, much greater support… financial support for our work there. Yep?
Question: Thank you. Does Secretary‑General have plan to meet Japanese Vice Foreign Minister tomorrow? And, if so, what will be the topic?
Spokesman: Yes, my understanding is something is on the schedule. The meeting will be… is being done at the request of the Japanese Mission. So you should address them in terms of the topics. But we look forward to meeting with the Vice Foreign Minister. Mr Abbadi?
Question: Thank you. China has made a very important announcement today, saying that it will spend $361 billion on renewable energy from now until 2020. How is this announcement being received in the UN?
Spokesman: Obviously, I think with a lot of positive feeling, so to… for… the greater investment in renewable energy is a key part in fighting climate change and trying to keep the temperature rise under control, so it's obviously something that we very much welcome. Mr Lee?
Question: Sure. Two questions. One is about Gambia. The electoral commission chief has gone into hiding, and the Government has closed three radio stations, one of which reopened with no news on it. So what's the status of the UN's work on this holdover presidency?
Spokesman: We've had… various UN officials have had contacts with parties involved, and obviously we would like to see and are very keen to see a peaceful resolution to the current crisis in the Gambia and, notably, the… for the President… the outgoing President to leave way for the President that was just elected.
Question: And I wanted to ask you this. I know I'd asked you… there was some… well, I'll just ask you about the fact of the matter, but there's a tie to the current… I'd asked you before the Secretary‑General left office about a… a… a media in South Korea saying that they'd received from you what they thought of as a threat, that seemed to say there would be further action taken. And now it seems that the Secretary‑General has, in fact, filed a legal action in South Korea about this Sisa Press and its allegation of bribery. And I wanted to know, given that the UN often says that… that reporting on corruption is important and given what some see as South Korean laws being not very press friendly, i.e., a person was left… couldn't leave the country because they wrote about President Park [Geun-hye], one, did you use the words "further necessary measures" or "further measures of any kind" to Sisa Press? And, two, what does it say about the UN system that the first action that Ban Ki‑moon took when he left office was to go after a media for reporting on, they say, corruption?
Spokesman: Listen, as I've said, one Secretary‑General at a time. I think, as I've done numerous times serving various Secretaries‑General, when there have been articles that have been based on absolutely zero fact, we have complained, and we have written. I think there's nothing untowards, towards that. What has happened since 1 January, I cannot confirm or speak to it, because I have no knowledge of it. The fact that an institution or a person defends themselves when they feel they're being attacked without any grounds in the media, I think, is a basic right of any individual.
Question: While you were still the Sec… the Spokesman for Ban Ki‑moon, I asked you in writing, when was the last time that the Secretary… the then‑Secretary‑General had spoken with the individual named in this charge and the footwear company tied to the previous President? Did you ask?
Spokesman: I don't know. Thank you. Yes, go ahead.
Question: Hi, Stéphane, just a quick question. You said the SG would be coming by to shake… to meet and greet us. Will there be any opportunity to have a press conference?
Spokesman: We're still working on trying to schedule a real press conference, but I think he wanted to come and see and meet you individually outside of a formal press encounter. Thank you.
Question: And would that be tomorrow or another day?
Question: Would that be tomorrow or another day, the press…?
Spokesman: No, no, the press conference will be another time.
Correspondent: Another time. Thank you.
Question: And those no longer with offices?
Spokesman: You're free to go wherever you are free to go.