The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Our colleagues at the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) report that its camp in the Kidal region came under mortar attack yesterday. One UN peacekeeper from Chad was killed and two others were wounded. The interim Head of the Mission, Koen Davidse, condemned the attack and presented his condolences to the family of the victim. He stressed that attacks against the UN Mission would not weaken its determination to implement its mandate.
We, of course, express our sincere condolences to the people and the Government of Chad and the family of the victim.
The Secretary-General will be writing a letter to the President of Chad to express his own condolences.
Meanwhile, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has received reports of fighting between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and opposition in Central Equatoria on Sunday. It is also following up on reports of civilians killed and displaced towards the border areas. The UN Mission has also received reports of clashes in Obbo Payam in Magwi County in Eastern Equatoria over the weekend and is seeking to verify reports of civilian casualties.
The Peacekeeping Mission reiterates the need for an immediate cessation of hostilities and an inclusive political process.
Meanwhile, it continues to protect some 224,000 civilians in protection of civilians sites across the country, with less than half being protected in the actual sites in Bentiu in Unity State.
Earlier today, you will have seen the Secretary-General spoke this morning at a high-level General Assembly dialogue on building sustainable peace for all.
He stressed the clear link between failing economies and the potential fragility of societies, institutions and even States, resulting in the eruption of devastating conflicts.
The Secretary-General said that we need a global response that addresses the root causes of conflict and integrates peace, sustainable development and human rights in a holistic way, from conception to execution.
Our priority, he said, is prevention — prevention of conflict, of the worst effects of natural disasters, and of other manmade threats to the cohesion and well-being of societies.
He underlined that the best means of prevention and of sustaining peace is inclusive and sustainable development, noting that the implementation [of] all the Sustainable Development Goals will make an enormous contribution to sustaining peace.
Turning to Syria, speaking in Astana, Kazakhstan, the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, commended Russia, Turkey and Iran for their decision to establish a trilateral mechanism to observe and ensure full compliance with the ceasefire in Syria. He said the UN stands ready to assist the parties to the trilateral mechanism and ensure that it helps strengthen the quality of the ceasefire. He added that both Syrian parties told him that their immediate priority was and remains to strengthen the ceasefire, and even now, efforts are continuing to address Wadi Barada and other issues.
Mr. de Mistura said that he trusts that the emphasis that the Astana meeting has put on the ceasefire will help create a supportive environment for engagement between the Syrian parties. He said that is important to jumpstart the convening of the formal political negotiating process under UN auspices in Geneva next month.
Meanwhile in Helsinki, the UN agencies and NGO (non-governmental organization) partners today appealed for $4.63 billion in new funding to continue vital work in addressing the growing needs of refugees from Syria and communities hosting them in neighbouring countries.
The plan aims to assist over 4.7 million refugees from Syria and 4.4 million people hosting them in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. That funding is in addition to the $3.4 billion that the UN estimates will be required to address the humanitarian needs of 13.5 million people in Syria this year.
One hundred days after military operations to retake Mosul started, humanitarian partners are expressing deep concern about the plight of an estimated 750,000 civilians who are currently living in the western sections of the city where fighting is expected to start in the coming weeks. To date, 180,000 people have fled the eastern sections of the city, while more than 550,000 civilians have stayed in their homes. Humanitarian partners have been working as quickly as possible to provide direct lifesaving assistance. Nearly 600,000 people have received food, 745,000 people have benefitted from water and sanitation support, and 370,000 have sought medical care.
Eighty-five per cent of the people displaced from Mosul are staying in 13 displacement camps and emergency sites constructed by the Government and its partners. Ten of these camps are already full, and four of them are being extended. Seven more camps are under construction.
In recent weeks, the Human Rights Office has also received a large number of reports of civilians killed by Da’esh shelling or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in parts of Mosul that were recaptured by the Government of Iraq.
Airstrikes in Mosul have also reportedly continue to cause civilian casualties, although it is difficult to verify how many civilians have been killed or injured, particularly since information indicates that Da’esh continues to base itself in civilian houses and infrastructure and is exploiting civilians as human shields.
And yesterday, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) conducted a mission to three east Mosul city neighbourhoods to follow up on support required by 30 primary schools, which were opened by the education authorities on 22 January. UNICEF was able to deliver basic school supplies.
We shared yesterday some details about the just-concluded visit by the Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, to Sana'a, where he met with representatives from Ansar Allah and General People's Congress. The meetings focused on the full and comprehensive political settlement of the crisis, the restoration of the Cessation of Hostilities, the security plan required for the peace agreement and the need to lift the restrictions on the access of civilian commercial aircrafts to and from Sana'a airport.
The Special Envoy will be in New York on Thursday to brief the Security Council on his ongoing efforts to resume peace negotiations. And we will see if he can stop by the microphone and brief you.
And I just wanted to flag that the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), Ertharin Cousin, is travelling to Nigeria today for talks with Government officials and to visit the north-east, where WFP is assisting more than a million people whose lives were wrecked by Boko Haram violence.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called the decision by a court in Kyrgyzstan to uphold a life sentence against political activist and journalist Azimjan Askarov “deeply troubling”. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said the decision highlights serious shortcomings in the country’s judicial system.
In a video message to the opening of this year’s session of the Conference on Disarmament, the Secretary-General said that disarmament is an integral element of a peaceful and prosperous world. It is one of the pillars on which the UN was built.
He spotlighted the important role that disarmament can play in ending existing conflicts and preventing the outbreak of a new strife.
Tomorrow, my guest at noon will be the Chair of the eleventh session of the Peacebuilding Commission, who is the Permanent Representative of Korea, Ambassador Cho.
**Questions and Answers
And Khalas. Mr. Klein?
Question: Yes. Regarding South Sudan, New York Times carried a front‑page article today outlining proposals floating around to create a trusteeship for South Sudan as a failed State. And I'm wondering whether the Secretary‑General would have any comment on that proposal, if no other solutions work to prevent what is being characterized as imminent genocide.
Spokesman: I think it was an interesting article and an interesting debate by academics and NGOs. For our part, the focus remains on ensuring that the political leaders in South Sudan live up to their responsibilities and, of course, ensuring that the neighbouring countries in the region are united in their support of the people of South Sudan and restoring a level of normalcy to the lives of the civilians who have suffered so much. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to just, I guess, ask, since there's the big UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), long-time rights monitor Ida Sawyer has been expelled for now the second time in recent months. And I'm just wondering, is there any response by MONUSCO or the Secretariat to…
Spokesman: I haven't seen any response… any reports here, but you should ask MONUSCO if they have anything.
Question: Sure. And I also want to ask you, we've previously asked about the deployments to the CAR (Central African Republic) from Burundi. And there's now a guy called [inaudible] who was the deputy commander of the unit who burned down Radio Publique Africaine on 12 December. So I wanted to know, what… are you aware of it? And is there… what are the standards…?
Spokesman: Are you saying that he's being deployed?
Question: I'm saying he's being deployed using a false name. That's all over the Burundian…
Spokesman: I've not seen that report, but I will check. Rosalyn?
Question: I just wanted to ask on South Sudan… sorry.
Spokesman: It's okay.
Question: Bit new here. Does the UN consider South Sudan a failed State?
Spokesman: I'm not going to get into the terminology. South Sudan and the people of South Sudan are experiencing a level of suffering and violence which is unimaginable. There is a need for the political leaders to live up to the responsibilities that they have to their own people. And I'll leave it at that. Mr. Sato and then Edie. Your microphone, please. Yeah?
Question: On South Sudan, so just before you give us some… the situation in the… the security situation in South Sudan. So how do United Nations assess the overall situation, security situation in South Sudan now? And as to their peacekeeping op… no, Regional Protection Force, the… what makes the deployment on the… the regional… regional protection force difficult, so difficult? Of course, that… the fundamental reason is the reluctance by the South Sudan Government. Also, some country is to worrying about if their… the soldiers were dispatched to the South Sudan, the security situation is very unsecure. So how do you… what do you assess the prospect of that deploying…
Spokesman: I think there are number of factors which are making this difficult where I think… a number of which you've enumerated yourself. It remains a fact that the regional protection force was mandated by… and authorized by the Security Council as a critical need, and we continue to work towards that end. But, obviously, there are other factors that also need to be addressed, and an important one is a political situation, which also needs to be improved so that the lives of the people themselves can be improved. Also, the issue of humanitarian access. I think, as we've been saying here for quite some time, we have a very challenging situation in terms of the humanitarian access, and we're not getting into the places we want to get to. Edie?
Question: As a follow‑up to that first, on the deployment of the protection force, the Security Council said that it wants to see swift deployment of the new… the additional 4,000 peacekeepers. What specifically is the UN going to do to try and promote this? We expecting to see any high‑level visits to talk to the Government officials there? And then I have another question.
Spokesman: Sure. I think we are continuing to push the issue with the Government of South Sudan and, obviously, with those troop-contributing countries. I think the issue of South Sudan will also be one of the focuses of the Secretary‑General when he goes to the African Union Summit meeting, which we will announce officially, but I guess I've just announced officially that he will be going, among other issues. Go ahead.
Question: Secondly, what… what specifically is Mr. de Mistura going to be doing between now and 8 February to try to ensure the success of the negotiations in Geneva? And, as a second question, is there any date yet for a press conference by the Secretary‑General?
Spokesman: No, on your last question. And I will be… you will be the second to find out after I'm given a date. Mr. de Mistura will, I think, use this time to consolidate the gains, in a sense, made in Astana, especially on the issue of ceasefire monitoring. He will be here, I believe, either later this week or next week to brief the Security Council and brief the Secretary‑General. And he will continue his contacts with all the relevant parties to ensure that as many people are represented in Geneva as possible.
Question: Can I put in a request on behalf of us to try and get some time with him?
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Go ahead.
Question: Does the UN have any comment on Israel's… Israeli settlement… new settlement plans? And also, are you concerned… is the UN concerned about US moving the embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv? Thank you.
Spokesman: I think… you know, I addressed… I addressed this in part yesterday, and I would repeat that; for the Secretary‑General that there is no Plan B for a two‑State solution. There's a need for both parties to engage in bona fide negotiations to reach the goal of two States, Israel, Palestine, two States for two people. In this regard, I think any unilateral decisions that can be an obstacle to the two‑State goal are of great concern to the Secretary‑General. Our stance on the issue of settlement building remains the same. It was expressed by Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov most recently, and we would include that in the category of unilateral actions. Sidi Rais, and then Evelyn. Sorry.
Question: Thank you, sir. I would like to ask a question about the letter of the Secretary‑General of 14 December 2016 to the Security Council about the appointment of a monitoring group on Somalia and Eritrea, resolution 2317. He mentions the names of seven experts. One of them… of course, they are all experts in different area, which is, you know, humanitarian affair, finance, and arms. Now, I see that the arms expert has been appointed as Mrs. Nazanine Moshiri from Iran, the Islamic Republic of Iran. Isn't this a bit of a controversial appointment of an Iranian who… to be an expert in arms and arms smuggling to Somalia… Somalia and Eritrea…
Spokesman: Listen, I will check on the board and that report. But, obviously, what is clear as a matter of rule, the experts are there in their personal capacity, in their… bringing their expertise and do not represent their country.
Question: I'll take your word on that but, however, we're all…
Spokesman: I appreciate that. I try to tell you the truth, yeah.
Question: Well, Steph, we heard Jeffrey Feltman's report on 2331 last week, and we heard about the accusation labelled against Iran's smuggling of arms to Somalia…
Spokesman: I hear you. And again, I will check on this particular… this particular issue, but, again, I would say that the experts — and I'm not familiar with this particular person — are there in their personal capacity.
Question: I do have a follow‑up on that. The expert is a journalist. She… all… all I can see from her history is that she had an interview with Ali Akbar Salehi, who was a Foreign Minister in 2011. Where does the expertise come from? A journal… I mean, can you pretend to be an expert in arms…
Spokesman: Talal, this is asymmetrical warfare. I've never heard of this person. I haven't seen it. Let me… I take you at your word, as well. Let me look into it, and I will get back to you. Stefano?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Two questions if I'm allow. First, I would like to… I was impressed when the Secretary‑General… one of his first speech, he talked about truth, the importance of… of truth in public affairs, that we need the truth to come… to be at the centre and no left aside. So I would like to know what he thinks in the last move of this… that what we saw, what we witness, about this talking about factual… the… practically the “alternative facts” and… and the “fake news”, all this that going around, this debate. It's not only in the United States, I think around the world. What he thinks about this?
Spokesman: I'm not…
Question: And then the second question, if you'll allow me, because it's connected, about not having alternative facts. On the situation on Libya, we have a Government that he supported, recognized by the UN and by the Security Council, but we saw in the last days and the last week very important countries supporting publicly factions or… or, for example, the government if we want to call it that… government but for sure an army of [Khalifa] Haftar or General Haftar, and this weakened the Government of the… that recognized by the UN. So can we have the facts? What's happening in Libya? And what is the position of the UN and the Secretary‑General about what's happening at the moment?
Spokesman: I will get you an update on our activities in Libya. What is clear is, obviously, as a matter of course, it is important for all the countries in the region and beyond to support the Government of National Unity in Libya. On your first question, I'm not going to get into commenting on what's happened in another briefing room a few hundred miles south of here. I have my own struggles to fight and my own battles to fight here. The Secretary‑General is for truth. We're all for truth. And I think it's important that journalists are able to do their job properly and report as they need to, and I will focus on those here. And I will leave it at that. Yes. Sorry. Evelyn has been very patient.
Question: Yes. Has Mr. [Donald] Trump refused or ignored any requests for a meeting with the Secretary‑General?
Question: There are rumours to such effect.
Spokesman: No, I'm not aware of any…
Question: Okay. Second…
Spokesman: As I said, we're… this is still early days. We're waiting for the arrival of a Permanent Representative, for the arrival of a Secretary of State, and then we will engage at the proper time and through the proper channels.
Question: Secondly, the gag rule, the Mexico City gag rule, what impact is it going to have on the many NGOs who work with UN bodies in refugee camps, AIDS, Zika…
Spokesman: Well, we're obviously… we're looking… we saw reports this morning. We're looking at the impact of UN activities. We've been in touch with our colleagues at UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), because they traditionally have been… have suffered from the gag… the so‑called gag rule. So, as soon as we get anything from them, I will let you know. Majeed?
Question: Stéphane, two question, one about Astana and the second one about Iraq. About Astana, several opposition leaders rejected the final statement, and they said Iran should not be a sponsor of the talks; instead should be considered a party of the world… of the… of the war. Is it 100 per cent that in February that Iran will be a sponsor of those talks?
Spokesman: The only sponsor of the talks in Geneva, the convenor, are the United Nations, is the United Nations, and Mr. de Mistura. As to who will sit around the table, all of that, that's obviously… we would want the broadest possible representation, and I will let Mr. de Mistura speak on those details.
Question: But do you agree that's contrary to the statement of the… of the final outcome of the conference in Astana? It says Iran, Turkey and Russia are sponsors.
Spokesman: They're sponsors of the talks in Astana. That's a fact.
Question: And about Iraq, last July, there was a conference in Washington, which US and the allies donated more than a billion dollar for the operation in Mosul and for the reconstruction part of it. And the UN was put as a responsible to the spending of that. Well, now half of the city has been liberated, and millions can't go back to their homes. Do you know… Stéphane, do you know of any effort by the Secretariat right now to start spending that money on… on construction…
Spokesman: We are… we're still in a very delicate… even… almost near combat phase in the areas that were recently liberated. So there are a number of assessments going in. The first phase is obviously on trying to get the immediate humanitarian help and then looking at the rebuilding. But I will ask Lise Grande and her team to see if there's any updates on the money. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. Ask about Myanmar and whistle-blowers, but I do… I have a kind of a name‑specific question as well, and I don't think it will be asymmetrical to you. So maybe you can answer it. The long-time special assistant to the former Secretary‑General, Mr. Chang Wook‑jin, I wanted to know whether he's still working for the UN as something called an adviser to the scheduling unit. And, if that's the case, if there are, in fact, two people with that title, that D-1 level, doing the job and… and…
Spokesman: I'm not aware of his… I'm not aware of his status. If I become aware, I will share it with you.
Question: Okay. And I wanted to ask you, on Myanmar, there's a well‑circulated… there's an AP story basically about fishermen… Rohingya fisher‑people being extorted and having to give what fish they catch in rafts to the authorities. And this follows up on stories where there are villages where they're not allowed to buy food. So a number questions, I think, while you were away built up. So I'm just wondering… on each, Farhan [Haq] said he'll ask DPA (Department of Political Affairs). I'm wondering, is there a UN response to… to the things that are taking place in Rakhine State?
Spokesman: I think we're… we continue to follow it closely, to be very concerned. I think we've all seen the very strong statements issued by the Special Rapporteur to Myanmar, Ms. [Yanghee] Lee, who just completed her mission, which I think brings to light quite a number of issues which are raising concern throughout the UN system. Evelyn?
Question: Do you have any update on Gambia? Is President… former President [Yahya] Jammeh in… definitely going to stay in Equatorial Guinea? And is… when is Mr. [Adama] Barrow coming in?
Spokesman: I can't speak to the former or the future… the former or the current President, their whereabouts. What I do know is that our colleagues in Political Affairs in the regional office for West Africa and UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) and the UN system as a whole is engaging with President Barrow and his Administration to see how we can ramp up support to the incoming Administration and to the people of the Gambia. Mr. Klein?
Question: Yes. In the statement put out by Mr. de Mistura and, as you mentioned, he commended Russia and Turkey and Iran for bringing about and trying to continue to implement and maintain the ceasefire, but there's no reflection or reference to how they got there, which was, in large part, because of what happened in Aleppo. It's often said that there's no military solution to the situation in Syria. But this ceasefire, didn't it really arise… become possible because… only after the Syrian Government, with Russia's help, devastated Aleppo?
Spokesman: Well, you know, you're assessing and analysing the situation. What we're trying to do is to build on what is happening now. I think we all saw and witnessed what happened in Aleppo and the horrific suffering of the Syrian people. What we're trying to do is put an end to that suffering and reach a political solution. And that's what Geneva is about.
Question: The only reason I'm bringing it up is because you talked about interest in total truth. The question is how we… how we got to this ceasefire, and didn't Mr. de Mistura go out of his way to commend Russia and two partners without…
Spokesman: Astana is…
Question: …without… without the broader context of the devastation and loss of life that got us there?
Spokesman: I think we have been, as a system, very clear on the suffering and the loss of life. And I think we were very vocal during the operations in Aleppo and the operations in the fighting that continues, whether it's in Deir Ezzour or in Wadi Barada. What we're building on is seeing Astana as a stop on the road to Geneva to get to that political solution. I think no one is turning a blind eye to the past. Majeed?
Question: Stéphane, again, about Astana, as you know, the Kurds in Syria has been excluded from every talk so far, including the UN‑sponsored talks. And last year, Mr. de Mistura told me that he's trying to include them, but is he still seriously trying to include the Kurds…?
Spokesman: As I said, we're trying to get the broadest representation possible, and I think I will let Mr. de Mistura answer that question a little closer to the date.
Question: Just follow‑up: Does that include the Kurds? Is he trying to…
Spokesman: As I said, the broadest possible. Mr Sato, then Edie and then Matthew.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Quick question on the Secretary‑General, today's speech. He mentioned that the… the benefit from the… implementing the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), runs to tons of trillions of dollars. This number is estimated or confirmed?
Spokesman: Estimated. Estimated. Mr. Lee, then Edie. Sorry.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask, this is… I guess I'd see it as following up on the whistle-blower announcement yesterday of a policy. I wanted to ask you about a specific whistle-blower controversy. Has to do with WIPO, the World Intellectual Property Organization. There's a protest scheduled tomorrow by a number of the staff unions about Francis Gurry. And this has been an ongoing… basically, he's accused of retaliating against a deputy director, against Miranda Brown. There's interest in it in the US Congress. And I just wanted to know, can you say, for the new Secretary‑General, who sign… you know, signed off on this new policy, is he aware… [Anders] Kompass, I guess, is gone and is not coming back. This is a current case of alleged retaliation. What does he believe about this member of the CEB (Chief Executives Board) qualification to continue in his position given at least two cases of retaliation raised by…?
Spokesman: I'll take a look at the case and get back to you. Edie?
Question: Going back to Gambia, Mr. [Mohammed Ibn] Chambas, what role is he playing now in… in… in trying to get… perhaps get Mr… President Barrow back to the country or in trying…
Spokesman: Mr. Chambas is there and his effort has been in support of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States). And, obviously, he is in touch with the… with Mr. Barrow, his Administration, to see how we can help them move forward. And, obviously, any help we can give the President, we will. Thank you.