The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General will leave New York this Friday afternoon for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to participate in the 28th Summit of the African Union.
The Secretary-General’s message to the African Union will be on building new partnerships between the United Nations and the AU based on respect and solidarity, and focusing on issues around the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063 for Africa.
While there, the Secretary-General is expected to have a number of bilateral meetings with Heads of State and Government also attending the summit.
He will hold a town hall meeting with UN staff working in Ethiopia while in Addis and we expect him back in New York on Tuesday afternoon.
Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), briefed the Security Council this morning via video link. The consultation was in follow-up to Security Council resolution 2237 (2017), adopted on 19 January, on the crisis in the Gambia, which requested the Secretary-General to update the Council within 10 days.
Mr. Chambas indicated that his office will spare no effort in supporting stability and nation-building in the Gambia. He will continue to promote a smooth and peaceful transition of power in the country, and further advocate for national unity and reconciliation. The UN Office for West Africa has already deployed staff to the Gambia to assist the Government in ensuring a smooth transfer from the previous Administration to the new authorities.
And, as you will have seen, President Barrow is scheduled to return to the Gambia tomorrow. Mr. Chambas is expected to accompany him on his trip home from Senegal.
The UN Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) condemned today the coordinated suicide bombing attack at a hotel in Mogadishu.
The attack reportedly killed dozens of Somali civilians and soldiers, while wounding many more. The Mission reports that Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the attack on the Dayah Hotel, which is located near the presidential palace, and we are told is frequently visited by lawmakers in Mogadishu.
Joseph Contreras, Spokesperson for the Mission, said the attack provides fresh evidence of the violent extremists’ desperate attempts to derail Somalia’s electoral process and reflects the terrorists’ frustration over their inability to sabotage the recent voting for seats in the two Houses of Somalia’s new Parliament.
**Central African Republic
And from the Central African Republic, the Humanitarian Coordinator in the country, Michel Yao, expressed concern over increasing tensions in the Ouaka Préfecture, which raised fear of violence between rival armed groups in Bambari. Dr. Yao stressed that an open conflict in the city would be devastating for the civilian population.
He called on armed groups not to lose sight of the impact violent clashes would have on the already delicate situation of civilians. He further urged them to preserve the gains made over the last two years on reconciliation and social cohesion, as well as on the improvement of the humanitarian situation.
And after you are done with me, our guest will be Ambassador Cho of the Republic of Korea, who is here in his capacity as the newly-elected Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission, and he will present the priorities for the new session.
And tomorrow, at 11, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, there will be a press conference on indigenous peoples.
And today, our thanks go to two countries, Denmark and Latvia, the two Member States that have paid their regular budget dues in full for 2017, which brings the results to?
Spokesman: 16. Anyway, khalas.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Who will be accompanying the Secretary‑General to the summit of the African Union?
Spokesman: I know Maged Abdelaziz, the Secretary‑General’s Special Adviser to Africa, will be on the delegation, and I don’t have details as to the rest of the people.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. As a follow‑up to Evelyn’s question from yesterday, has the UN Population Fund come up with a response to…
Spokesman: As far, what they told us this morning, they’re, obviously, continuing to look at the impact, but they don’t expect to be directly impacted by this. But, obviously, from what we gather, the so‑called gag order does implicate a lot of international NGOs. But UNFPA, at this point, doesn’t expect to be directly impacted.
Question: Yeah. Thank you, Stéphane. The situation in Idlib, obviously, is very dire because of the infighting between rebel groups and al‑Nusra. Also, in al‑Bab, we do not hear any briefing of the situation of civilians who were trapped in the fighting. Is there any… are there any contacts from the United Nations to establish what’s happening there and how the delivery of humanitarian aid to the civilians there?
Spokesman: No, I don’t have an update for you today, but I will try to get…
Question: Why is it, I mean al‑Bab is ignored for such a long time?
Spokesman: I’m not saying it’s ignored. I’m saying I personally don’t have an update for you, but I will ask our colleagues from OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] to see what they can come up with.
Question: Sure. A couple of extradition questions, not… not South Korea extradition but from DRC to Burundi. There’s 150 Burundians that face a… a… extradition or deportation back to Burundi, and a number of human rights groups are saying that they will face… that, that there are human rights implications to this. And I’m wondering, given that the UN is interested in one country and has a big presence in the other, what is the UN’s position on this impending extradition…
Spokesman: I’m not aware of these, of this report. You could check with the mission directly, and obviously, we’d hope that all these things are done in accordance with full respect of international law.
Question: Sure. So are you aware of the impending extradition of… of South Sudanese human rights lawyer Samuel Luak, who defend Pagan Amum? Basically, a number of highly respected groups are saying that, if he’s deported, he will face unjust treatment. So I’m wondering, has the UN…
Spokesman: I, I have, don’t have an update here, but, again, you can check locally with the mission.
Question: So that would be the resident coordinator? I’m talking about in Kenya.
Spokesman: In Kenya, you can check with the UN Information Centre in Nairobi.
Yes, in the back.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Does the Secretary‑General has a moral position regarding the building of walls between countries to return migrants and refugees coming to said countries?
Spokesman: We’re… we’ve seen, obviously, a lot of the, what is the reporting around here on the issue of the wall of the border. The UN’s position is one that advocates the management of refugee and migrants flow according to international law and in full respect of, of international obligations. And I think part of the reason that the UN system, especially in the last year, has been calling for a global compact on these issues of mass movement of people is to take, and for better management, is to take the flow, in a sense, of refugees and migrants out of the hands of criminals and smugglers and into a system that is well, that is well and properly managed.
Question: So… so, just to follow up, do you think that a wall is in line with… with this international…
Spokesman: I think, I feel I’ve answered that question.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: You’re welcome.
Question: Stéphane, any updates on the water supply issue, both in Damascus and in Aleppo?
Spokesman: No. They continue… no good news to report, unfortunately.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, or ESCWA, was supposed to have released by today a report examining how Mideast countries uphold or suppress their citizens’ legal and human rights. We are led to believe that, because of some of the objections from countries, including Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, that ESCWA was then pushed to not release the report because of what these countries say is either negative or inaccurate descriptions of their behaviour toward their citizens. I have a couple of questions.
First, has this report been blocked from publication? And will it ever become public?
Spokesman: My understanding is that the report, which was drafted by independent experts, will be released by these independent experts under its own steam.
Question: Okay, but not by ESCWA directly.
Spokesman: That’s my understanding. Yes.
Question: If the facts about policing the judicial system, political repression, that are included supposedly in this report are accurate, why shouldn’t ESCWA be the one to publish this report?
Spokesman: As I said, these, this is a report that was drafted by independent experts. The report itself will be published by the, by the independent experts themselves. The UN system as a whole has and will continue to flag human rights violations wherever they occur, whether it’s in the region or beyond.
Question: And my final… my final question…
Question: …on this, Stéphane, the report apparently calls for a justice‑based compact between the Governments in the region and their citizens. Given the ongoing strife in many countries across the Middle East, is that, in the UN’s view, a good way to recalibrate these relationships?
Spokesman: I have, I haven’t seen the report or its content. Again, I can only say that the UN system, as a matter of principle, will push for and continue to advocate for the rule of law and for people’s rights to be, to be respected.
Oleg. I’ll come back to you, Nizar. Oleg. Oh, you had a question already. Nizar, sorry.
Question: A follow‑up on this, on the report, if you… we can stay on that. Yesterday, I learned that this report is being reviewed by the Secretary‑General because it will carry Secretary‑General’s name on it. Is… are you correcting this? Are you changing the story here?
Spokesman: What I’m telling you, I don’t know if I’m correcting or changing, what I’m telling you is that the report, which was commissioned by independent experts, will be draft, will be released by these independent experts.
Question: Stéph, the new US President has signed a ban on US funding international programmes that support or that perform abortions and give information on abortions. How is this going to affect UNFPA, maybe WHO, I don’t know which health arms of the UN.
Question: Do you have numbers yet?
Spokesman: We just, we just talked to our colleague at UNFPA. They don’t feel at this point they will be directly impacted, but obviously, it may have an impact on some of the international NGOs they work with. But obviously, they’re still going through… through the possible impact.
Question: Have they done any contingency planning in case…
Spokesman: They’re first looking at their own, what impact it will have, and they will take it from there.
Evelyn, and then, sorry.
Question: Thanks, Stéph. Gambia, the ex‑President, [Yahya] Jammeh, evidently left with cars and other loot that he has accumulated over the years. That seems to be part of a deal to get him out, the AU, possibly the UN. Do you have any comments on that?
Spokesman: You know, there was a joint declaration by the UN and the AU and ECOWAS. That document was drafted for the express purpose of finding a peaceful resolution to the crisis in The Gambia, the situation that it was under. It’s… it’s important to note it is a political document. It’s not a legal document. It neither guarantees nor encourages nor envisages amnesty for any possible crimes that former President Jammeh or his associates may have committed and that the new Government may wish to investigate.
Question: [inaudible] What about leaving the loot?
Spokesman: I think, I have no direct knowledge of that, but obviously, I think that could be broadly covered by what I just said.
Question: Thank you. Kuwait today, for the first time since 2013, executed seven, I believe two of them Kuwaiti nationals. How does the Secretary‑General view…
Spokesman: The UN, as, the UN’s position on the death penalty and for the call for a moratorium on the death penalty stands and has not changed.
Margaret, then Nizar, then… sorry.
Question: Just to follow up on Gambia, Stéph. You mentioned earlier that UN staff have been deployed…
Spokesman: Uh‑huh, yeah.
Question: …to help with the transition. How many? Which departments?
Spokesman: I’ll try to get some numbers. It’s being led by the office of Mr. Chambas, the Secretary‑General’s representative for West Africa. I know our colleagues at UNDP and DPA are also talking to the Gambian authorities. I think it’s important for the President to land. We are def… we are working on contingency plans to beef up the UN’s presence to help the new Administration in whatever way we can to make sure it gets off to a good start. And, as soon as I can get some granularity to that support, I will share it with you.
Question: Other than Mr. Chambas, how many people are based in the… I mean, he’s not based in Gambia but…
Spokesman: There’s a small country office in the Gambia. So the process has begun to beefing up that country office. He has personally sent some additional staff from his office, and UNDP and other UN agencies are expected to follow suit.
Yes, in the back.
Correspondent: I think it was mine.
Spokesman: I know, but, you know, Nizar, I’ll do whatever I can not to answer your questions.
Question: Thanks. On Sudan, do you have any update on the investigation into the allegations that Indonesian peacekeepers were attempting to smuggle arms out of Darfur?
Spokesman: No additional information, just to say that the contingent remains in Sudan while the investigation continues, which is being done by us, and I believe also the Indonesian authorities have sent their own, their own people to look into this matter.
Question: Yeah. During the election campaign, [United States] President [Donald] Trump has blamed the previous Administration of not controlling the Iraqi oil. And then he repeated that recently, which has provoked a condemnation from the Iraqi Prime Minister. How does the United Nations feel about a country threatening to control the oil of another country?
Spokesman: You know, I…
Question: How does that not match…
Spokesman: I will not…
Question: …with the Charter?
Spokesman: I will only say, and I will not go into commenting on every utterance that comes out of every… every capital around the world, but what I will say is, obviously, that the United Nations supports the sovereignty of Iraq.
Oleg, and then Matthew, and Mr Abbadi.
Question: Thanks. On the children and armed conflict report, why it is not made public? I mean, it’s been out. I mean, there was some sort of internal report, presumably, and Saudi Arabia is…
Spokesman: You may, you may know more than I do. I don’t… the annual report from the Office of the Children and Armed Conflict is due a little later this year. I may stand corrected.
Question: Will it be public?
Spokesman: Yeah, as it always is every year. It’s a UN document, it goes to the…
Question: [inaudible] we are talking about… we are talking about the previous report, not the cur… the new report. The previous report is under review and has been under review for over three, four months.
Spokesman: I have nothing to add to that situation.
Question: Sure. Just a… I just wanted to know, you said the Secretary‑General will be meeting with Heads of State in Addis. Do you… is it the UN’s understanding that Adama Barrow is actually going to go there, or is he going to stay in Gambia?
Spokesman: I don’t…
Question: Is there an appointment set up? Does he have a scheduled appointment with them in…
Spokesman: I’m not aware he has an appointment scheduled with Adama Barrow. I think we have to let President Barrow first go to the Gambia before talking about…
Spokesman: …going someplace else.
Question: And I wanted to talk about… I see in the Secretary‑General’s schedule today, among other things, he’s meeting with the Perm Rep of Bahrain. And as I’m… I know that on these other human rights questions, you’re saying ask elsewhere. But there… the UN’s own Special Rapporteurs on torture and summary executions have both called for not… not executing Hussein Mousa and another individual. And I’m just wondering, is this the kind of thing that the Secretary‑General will bring up in these meetings? I’m just wanting to get a sense of whether…
Spokesman: I’m not going to…
Spokesman: He will routinely and… meet with PRs, bring up issues of mutual concern, but we’re not going to give readouts of these, of meetings with Permanent Representatives. The system has expressed, and I’m sure will continue to express, its concern over specific situations in Bahrain.
Question: The… the meeting with the DPRK, was that at their request or at his request?
Spokesman: At their request.
Question: Thank you, Stéph. Traditionally, or at least very often, the Secretary‑General goes down to Washington in January or so to meet with the Administration, as well as members of Congress. And I was wondering if there are any discussions for the Secretary‑General to do this…
Spokesman: I’m sure there will be, there will be a trip scheduled. As I said before, I think we need to first get the arrival of the new Permanent Representative here, who was, from what I gather, sworn in this morning, the new [US Ambassador to the United Nations]. I think the contacts, the links have to be built for these visits to be, to be done, and we have to find the appropriate time. But there’s no reason why there should not be a visit.
Madame, and then Mr. Abbadi, sorry.
Question: Okay, Stéph. Among the other U… violations, it would seem, of UN principles, is there any comment on Mr Trump’s policy on new, new policy on refugees not to let any of them in from certain Middle East countries…
Spokesman: I will…
Question: …not to mention the south?
Spokesman: I will refrain on commenting on anything. I haven’t seen any signed, not seen any reports of any actual signed orders.
Question: Well, he did…
Spokesman: I know. I know what has been said, but I will wait for things…
Question: He actually said it.
Spokesman: I’ll wait for policy to be implemented instead of just talked about.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Concerning the conflict in Libya, the head of the national Government… national union there… government union… national… sorry. The Head of the Government of National Union, Mr. Sarraj, said that he will be meeting with his rival, Marshal Khalifa Haftar, in Cairo without intermediaries, without mediators. Is this a sign of his concern about the presence of the UN?
Spokesman: I think that’s a, I’m not in the habit of interpreting. I think that’s your job.
Question: Sure. I wanted to… this is going back to when you announced the new whistle-blower policy. I’m sure you’ve now seen that the Government Accountability Project has said it made some good steps, but they think it falls short of the US, under the US law that requires withholding contributions. Does the… do you disagree with that?
Question: They’re saying that the law requires external arbitration.
Spokesman: I think we look forward to having a dialogue with the Government Accountability Office, more importantly, with the US authorities on this. I think we’re very, we feel very strongly that the new whistle-blower policy meets best practices, that it is a great improvement on what the staff had before. And I think it’s a testimony to both parties willing to move forward that the staff and management agreed on this rather quickly in the new Secretary‑General’s term.
Question: When you say the staff, given that there’s a dispute about who the staff union is, what do you mean by that?
Spokesman: Well, it’s with the global, global staff management…
Question: I’m sorry to have to ask you this, but there’s been an interview with the former Secretary‑General in the Korea Herald, and he says, the reason I’m asking is this. He says, “Asked when he made the decision related to the presidential election, Ban said he had reached the decision in December when President Park Geun‑hye,” etc., etc.
So you, it was said here repeatedly, repeatedly, no decision made while he was Secretary‑General. Everything will wait until he left. And now he himself has said the decision was made in December. So do you want to modify or amend what was said from here…
Spokesman: No, I will stay with what I’ve, which what I said, which was based on what I know and which has the added advantage of being the truth. Thank you.
Correspondent: He’s also said one other thing.
Spokesman: I’ll see you later.
Correspondent: See you tomorrow.