The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
An update from our colleagues at the UN Mission in Colombia: they tell us that more than 200 men and women of the FARC-EP marched today to the Transit Point of Normalization in Pondores in northern Colombia. The Pondores site is where the separation of forces will take place, a task which the UN Mission in Colombia will verify. Once FARC-EP members are in the camps, the first step for the laying down of arms is the registration of arms and weapons. Some armaments — such as gunpowder, grenades and anti-personnel mines — will be destroyed in site. Ultimately, the UN Mission in Colombia will remove all weapons from the camps. More than 6,300 FARC-EP members began moving towards sites over Colombia last week - one of the largest logistics operations in the country.
Back here, Ján Kubiš, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, briefed the Security Council today, and he noted the progress made by Iraqi forces in Mosul. He said that in the foreseeable future, the liberation operations in Iraq are coming to an end, and the days of Da’esh are numbered. At the same time, he said that one of the most disturbing aspects of the crisis has been the extremely high percentage of civilian casualties. Nearly half of all trauma victims treated in Erbil are civilian.
Mr. Kubiš noted that the UN Mission has received no evidence of any systematic or widespread violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law on the part of the security forces. However, criminal acts against civilians and prisoners of war still regrettably happen. Mostly, he said, they are quickly investigated with measures taken to prevent such acts in the future. Following the meeting, the Security Council will hold consultations on the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia and the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative there, Petko Draganov, will brief. Then, at 3 p.m. this afternoon, the Council will hold an open meeting on Ukraine.
Meanwhile, turning to Syria, we are deeply concerned by the attack affecting the Carlton Hotel in Syria’s Idleb city that damaged the administrative offices of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent’s Idleb branch. The president of the branch was injured in the attack. We call on all parties to cease attacks that impact humanitarian workers and humanitarian offices. All humanitarian organizations in Syria — working only to assist people in need — must be protected. We further call on all parties to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure from the effects of hostilities and refrain [from] using of explosive weapons in populated areas, as required by international humanitarian law.
Meanwhile, as of yesterday, water to Damascus from the main source in Wadi Barada has now been restored to about 60 per cent of the population, following some repairs. The main source of water for 5.5 million people in Damascus had been cut since December of last year. Partners on the ground have reported that some of the estimated 17,500 people displaced by conflict in the area, have started to return to their homes.
Also to flag the extreme worrying situation about the intensification of military operations, including airstrikes, in the Dhubab and Al Mokha districts of Yemen’s Taizz Governorate. There has also been a sharp increase in airstrikes in Hudaydah and surrounding areas. Displacement is increasing from Mokha, with at least a third of the population, approximately 30,000 people, forced to flee to other areas in Taizz governorate, as well as to Hudaydah and Lahj governorates. There are conflicting reports on the number of people who are still in the city. We are also concerned about the impact of military operations on the movement of commercial and humanitarian vessels in the Red Sea near Yemen's ports, the gateway of 70 per cent of imports for Yemen.
From Somalia, there are new warnings that the humanitarian situation there has further deteriorated and there are also worrying signs that famine is possible in the country this year. Our humanitarian colleagues say the number of people in need of assistance in Somalia has increased to 6.2 million — roughly half of the population. Three million people are classified as facing crisis and emergency food insecurity.
According to our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, at least 92,000 people have been displaced since the October 2016 attacks on police posts in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State. This includes some 69,000 people who have fled across the border into Bangladesh. After a three-month interruption in most aid deliveries provided by UN agencies and partners, the Government has allowed an incremental resumption of some activities in the northern part of Rakhine. With international staff still facing severe movement restrictions, national staff are distributing food and other items in most villages.
The UN is calling for the relaxation of travel restrictions in northern Rakhine, both for local people who are impeded in accessing humanitarian aid and basic services, as well as for staff from aid organizations which need access to assess and respond to humanitarian needs, irrespective of nationality, ethnicity, religion, or citizenship status.
UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have issued a joint statement calling on European leaders to take decisive action to address the tragic loss of life on the Central Mediterranean route and the deplorable conditions for migrants and refugees in Libya. The statement was issued ahead of tomorrow’s informal meeting of the European Council. It stresses the need for concerted efforts to change the way migrants and refugees are dealt with in Libya and neighbouring countries.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
You will have seen that yesterday, the Congolese opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi died in Brussels. There is statement from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to that effect.
One year ago, the Zika outbreak sweeping through the Americas was declared a public health emergency of international concern. Looking back on that decision, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Margaret Chan, said that Zika revealed fault lines in the world’s collective preparedness, including poor access to family planning services and the dismantling of national programmes for mosquito control. Dr. Chan says that WHO and affected countries need to manage Zika not on an emergency footing, but in the same sustained way we respond to other established epidemic-prone pathogens, like dengue and chikungunya. More information online.
**Food Price Index
Our colleagues at FAO have issued the January Food Price Index, which says the Index rose notably in January, led by sugar and cereals, even as global markets remain well supplied. World cereal stocks are at an all-time high, boosted by record production, including larger-than-expected wheat harvests in Australia and the Russian Federation. Khalas. Nizar.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you Stéphane. Going back to Hudaydah and this… Saudi‑imposed embargo on any… or prevention of any shipping into… into that seaport, you mentioned that this would hamper, of course, the efforts of relief in the area. Could you elaborate on that, especially on the targeting of fisher… fishing boats in the Red Sea by the…?
Spokesman: I don't know what more to share than what our humanitarian colleagues have, have given us. What we're seeing is the continuing and very unfortunate and dire impact of the military operations on the humanitarian situation in Yemen, whether it's on access to ports, whether it's ability to access, to access roads. And if we ever needed more motivation, this is a continued motivation to try to find a political solution to the current crisis.
Question: Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed, two days ago, condemned the targeting of Dhahran in Saudi Arabia in Southern Dhahran, not Eastern Dhahran. However, he did not mention anything about the targeting of Hudaydah and Mokha and all these important seaports?
Spokesman: I think in his, in his remarks previously, I think the, the Special Envoy has routinely condemned, whether it's just from his voice, from the UN, from humanitarian colleagues, condemned attacks on civilian infrastructure from wherever they occur. Mr. Lee… I'll come… I'll come back… Nizar, I'll come back…
Question: Follow‑up on that, on the same thing. Did he contact the Saudis about lifting this blockade on Hudaydah…?
Spokesman: I think he has been having continued contacts with Saudis and others. Mr. Lee and then Mr. Abbadi.
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. I have some other things, but I just wanted to ask you something. I know the Secretary‑General is briefing the Security Council tomorrow about the AU [African Union], South… South Sudan and I heard Burundi. But, I wanted you to confirm that a request has been made that he brief the Council about the US immigration Executive Orders…?
Spokesman: Not that I'm aware of.
Correspondent: Because a Council member has made that request.
Spokesman: I'm not doubting what you're saying to me. I'm just not aware of it.
Question: Okay. And, on Burundi, which you will be [inaudible]… is there a request by the Secretariat to have Mr. Mkapa, the facilitator? Because there was no meeting on Burundi in the entire month of January. Have any of the police that were… that were mandated by the… by the Council been deployed? And what steps are being taken…?
Spokesman: As you know, there has been no… no… no progress on that, and it is something also for the Council to deal with. Mr. Abbadi and then Abdel.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. It seems that former Secretary‑General of the UN, Ban Ki‑moon, has had a rough time since he began… he returned to Korea on 12 January. He has been accused of receiving $30,000 in a restaurant here in New York while in the office. His rating for the presidential elections are down to 15, compared to his adversary, 34, and he has now decided to withdraw from politics altogether. Are you surprised?
Spokesman: It's really not for me to comment. We obviously wish him well, but it is not for me to comment on an internal political situation in the Republic of Korea. Abdelhamid.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Can you read exactly what the Secretary‑General told Israeli radio about Al‑Haram al‑Sharif? The way he was quoted as if he endorsing that Al‑Haram al‑Sharif belongs to the… to Israel. Can you exactly…?
Spokesman: What the Secretary‑General said is that the temple that was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD was a Jewish temple, of what happened at the time. What he also said is that currently Jerusalem is a city with holy sites belonging to the three main monotheistic religions… Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Question: So, you think he did not… he did not contradict UNESCO's [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization]…?
Spokesman: I'm not saying he didn't… that's not… I'm not answering that question. The UNESCO… the UNESCO resolution was passed by Member States. We expressed our opinion, expressed our opinion at the time, and the Secretary‑General was stating, was stating facts.
Question: One thousand, two hundred and fifty refugees are stranded in New Guinea and are waiting for the answer of US President to have them in US or not. Does United Nations have a backup plan in case the leader of the Australia or… and US doesn't agree what to do with them?
Spokesman: What our colleagues at UNHCR have told us, because they're… obviously, in terms of the UN system, they're in the lead on this, that, given the humanitarian imperative, urgent solutions will be found for refugees in Papua New Guinea and also in Nauru. There are number of them who are in Nauru, and that the current policy approach of "offshore processing and open‑ended detention" must end and adding that, obviously, Australia must be part of, an essential part of any solution. But, I would… I think if you have… those are… it's UNHCR's position. I think if you have any further questions, you should address it to them.
Question: Can I ask one more question?
Spokesman: You may ask one more question [inaudible]…
Question: Since Iraqi Minister was mentioning that the war is going to be over soon, is UN planning to go after those countries and those companies who helped and feed [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant] after the war?
Spokesman: I think what the, what the Special Envoy said is that the military operations against… in Mosul would, would end soon. There are a number of sanctions regimes, Security Council's regime, that deal with anti… with terrorist organizations and those who fund them. Rosalind.
Question: A larger question on refugee policy, how concerned is the Secretary‑General that populists in other countries might look at what's happening here in the United States and try to impose similar bans based on religion, ethnicity, national origin and thereby threaten the whole process by trying to provide emergency relief to people fleeing warfare or famine?
Spokesman: You know, I would, I would refer you to what the Secretary‑General said through a statement a couple of days ago, which is he's obviously concerned about what he sees as the, the erosion of the respect for refugee rights and the respect for refugees that we're seeing around the world. Yes, sir.
Question: I'm sure you have a… something today for the conference on Cyprus. Stéphane, as you know, the conference on Cyprus is going to take place in Geneva, as I understand, on 6 March. Can you tell us if the Secretary‑General is going to participate again?
Spokesman: That I cannot, that I'm not in a position to, to elaborate on. You know the leaders, the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot community leaders met yesterday under the auspices of Mr. Eide, the Special Adviser. I think there, there are more meetings planned. I think they'll meet weekly during the month, during the month of February in order to prepare for a… the continuation of the conference at the political level in early March. I think, obviously, as for the Secretary‑General, I think that will be decided much… much later. Abdelhamid and then Nizar.
Question: Thank you. In his very brief, mild statement about the 5… what you call 5,000 settlement units, the Secretary‑General did not refer to resolution 2334 (2016). Isn't that something that really worth mentioning since it has been just adopted the end of December?
Spokesman: Look, I wouldn't read too much into it. What is clear is the Secretary‑General's position on the issue of illegal settlements and his concern at the continuation of decisions by the Israeli Government to continue with that, with that endeavour. Nizar and then Matthew.
Question: Yeah, the fighting is intensifying around Al‑Bab in… near Aleppo, and this city has been under constant attack for over a month now. Has there been any relief taken…?
Spokesman: I'll check. I have not gotten any updates on that particular area today, but I will check.
Question: And, also, about Deir ez‑Zor, has there been any aid…?
Spokesman: Deir ez‑Zor, as far as I understand it, the World Food Programme (WFP) airdrops have resumed.
Question: I have another question regarding the notice given to Iran by… yesterday by generals from the Pentagon. Did the Secretary‑General contact any side regarding cooling down this exchange of threats…?
Spokesman: There was a… prior to the, the comments you refer to, there was a briefing to the Security Council on the issue. Yeah, Matthew.
Question: Sure. Follow‑up to Mr. Abbadi's question, but I want to be sure to ask you this one. There's been… a memo has come out from the UN Ethics Office showing that a… an employee at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Emma Reilly, had sought protection after she reported that a Member State was being informed of its opposition dissidents coming to Geneva, and one of the dissidents was, in fact, detained and killed and that the Ethics Office didn't, in fact, offer her any protection, said that her… that what she complained of didn't trigger…?
Spokesman: I think… I think the… if I may rephrase or comment on your question…
Correspondent: Sure, if I finish it…
Spokesman: The memo didn't come out. It was obviously leaked, and I have no… no way of verifying its veracity. What I… what I do know is that we're not able to, you know, on behalf of the Ethics Office, talk about the specificity of… of ongoing… ongoing cases. I would refer you, if you have any questions, to our colleagues at the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who, in fact, have just put out a pretty extensive press release and press statement, I think, rejecting the allegations found in your publication, as well as in the Government Accountability Office, and is strongly objecting to any link to the detention and subsequent tragic death of Cao Shunli, having linked to the actions of the office. So, I think, if you have any further questions, I would direct them to the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Correspondent: I want to ask you something, I guess I have more on that, but I will ask them. Something closer to home. You'd sent me an answer about the so‑called hospitality log at the Pension Fund. That was fine. They published it. Since then, the employees of that unit have all received a, what they call a gag order from Ms. Carolyn Boykin telling, reminding them that only the Secretary‑General can speak for the Organization. And they see it as basically they thought that they…
Spokesman: I don't… I, you know, people can interpret whatever they want in whatever way they want. My understanding is that what was circulated are the current, the current media guidelines, which actually say that people should be able to speak in their areas of, their area of competency.
Question: So, what level of UN employee is… is authorized to disclose if they think they saw… they see corruption? They took this as very much a threat to punishment.
Spokesman: I'm sorry they interpreted it that way.
Question: What does it mean?
Spokesman: Mr. Abbadi.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. When Secretary‑General Guterres was asked about reform of Security Council, he said that's a very important part of the reforms of the United Nations and that the Charter would be amended to that effect. Has the former Secretary‑General, Ban Ki‑moon, ever mentioned reforming the Security Council through amending the Charter?
Spokesman: That's a question for yourself, as well as for me. I mean, you know what he's said publicly. We all know what, constitutional changes would require an actual… constitutional changes would require changes in the Charter. I mean, that's plain for anybody to interpret. Ms. Fasulo.
Correspondent: Thank you, Steph. Following up on the question about the SG being concerned about the erosion of support for refugees, I was just wondering, going back to this issue I've asked before, is, we know that the United States has made it clear that they're limiting the admission of refugees. But, on the other hand, there are loads of countries, whether it be Latin America, Middle East, Asia, that are not opening their doors and are quiet about it. And so I was just wondering if the Secretary‑General plans to, either through his good offices, you know, reach out to these countries and put a little pressure on them to, you know, live up to their responsibilities, as well.
Spokesman: Well, I think there is a… a need for global solidarity for refugees, one… and there are two things here. One is accepting refugees as temporary measures. As we've seen, the large amount of camps and refugees that have settled in Kenya, in Ethiopia, in Turkey, in Lebanon, in Jordan. We've seen also in Syria over the last decade how Syria had… Syria had opened its doors to refugees from Iraq. And then there's also the issue of resettlement, of countries accepting refugees for permanent resettlement, and obviously, people wanting to go to those countries. So, we would love to see a greater solidarity on both counts. Mr. Avni.
Correspondent: Yes. On your statement yesterday on the settlements, I don't know if you said anything about it in today's briefing. Maybe I missed it. If I have, I'm going to shoot myself…
Spokesman: If you haven't heard it, it's new to you. Right?
Question: Exactly. I mean, what I haven't heard, I haven't heard. Don't you risk burying the lede, because yesterday, beyond announcements of new settlements and new units and all that, there was real action of dismantling a settlement, which wasn't even acknowledged. Doesn’t that encourage… isn't that an encouraging sign to show that Israel, when it wants to, can dismantle settlement, and therefore, maybe there's an opportunity for future two States more than was acknowledged in the past?
Spokesman: You know, burying the lede is the job of journalists. I don't… I don't tell you what your lede… what your lede should be. It's, obviously, an encouraging fact when we see an illegal settlement being dismantled. But, they're two… they're two interlinked but also two separate things. We've also seen a number of announcements increasing the number of such settlements, and that's what we were referring to.
Correspondent: You were referring to the announcement, but not to the action.
Spokesman: I'm referring to both. Abdelhamid.
Correspondent: Yes. It's… my question is mostly theoretical…
Spokesman: That's not my area of expertise.
Question: No, it's your area. Does any SG, not only this one, have the right to flagrantly… flagrantly say something that violates a UN resolution, be it Security Council resolution or General Assembly resolution? Does he have the right to state his own opinion that contradicts…?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General… the Secretary‑General, I think, any Secretary‑General, enjoys the same rights as any other citizen of this planet and mainly that's a freedom of expression. Yes, sir.
Question: But, his mandate is coming…?
Spokesman: I understand. I understand your theoretical question. I was answering it in the most practical way I can.
Correspondent: Okay. Just let me just understand that you saying that he has the right to express his own personal opinion even if…
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General has the right to express himself. Yep.
Question: I know the noon briefing is much more advanced and civilized than White House. Does going to use Skype for those absent… journalists, is there any chance that UN can use the same…?
Spokesman: Oh, I'd like to know the flock that I preach to. Mr. Lee. So the answer is no. I have no plans. Yeah.
Question: Okay. I have another question, but I just… I want to say… I want to emphasize the question that I was asking to you about the Ethics Office memo is a question for the Secretariat. It's about the Ethics Office and whether they're providing protection to this person. The allegations are not only about Chinese civil rights civil defenders; it's also about the sale of a book by this Mr. Eric [inaudible]…
Spokesman: My understanding is that the case is ongoing, and I can't address the specifics of it.
Correspondent: I say it because the human… I…
Spokesman: I know why you say it…
Correspondent: I'm asking you about the Ethics Office.
Spokesman: I know why you're saying it. And I'm answering.
Question: I want to ask… again, this is another transparency question. Now that we're in February, it seems like there are a number of UN officials that have been informed that they're leaving on 31 March. And what I'm wondering is, you're always talking about dragging people through the mud, and that's not the intention, but there should be transparency in who's working on [the 38th Floor]. So, I asked you last week about, about Mr. Tanguy Stehelin of… the French mission's legal adviser. I saw him yesterday at a meeting with the Secretary‑General, a meeting with Bosnia. So, does he now work for the UN?
Spokesman: My understanding is he does work in the Executive Office, and he's now an international civil servant with the rights and responsibilities that come with that.
Question: Absolutely. Is he paid by France or he's paid by the UN?
Spokesman: He's an international civil servant and a UN staff member.
Question: Okay. And I wanted to ask about… I understand from Leila Zerrougui that she's leaving 31 March. And so I wanted to ask you how this impacts the supposed review of putting the Saudi‑led Coalition back on that list. Who's going to do the review…?
Spokesman: The… the… the office continues. The mandate continues. And there is a… an open vacancy on the public website, but it doesn't, it has, it doesn't change the work of the office or the mandate of that office.
Question: Will a report be issued even if there's not a person in place?
Spokesman: I think we very much hope that a person will be, will be in place by then, and there's no reason to think that the work of the office and its mandate will change. Olga, you've been very patient, unlike, yes, like some of you. Yeah.
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. Can you please clarify about the resumption of the humanitarian deliveries to Deir ez‑Zor? Is it still operating by WFP and if the pilots are landing in the same area that was taken by ISIS?
Spokesman: My understanding is that WFP and its partners have resumed airdrop deliveries to Deir ez‑Zor city, and that was on, they resumed on 29 January. The operations had been suspended on the 15 January due to the security conditions on the ground. Operations have resumed as an alternative drop zone has been identified and is now being used, so a new drop zone. Just to give you some background, since April, WFP's done 179 airdrops to Deir ez‑Zor's city providing over 3,340 metric tons of WFP mixed food items and supplies on behalf of other humanitarian actors. They have so far delivered food to support over 93,000 people. Mr. Abbadi. You've been very patient, too.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Is the Secretary‑General preparing a general plan for reforming the Secretariat? And when would he present that plan to the General Assembly?
Spokesman: I think a number of reforms are being discussed and… and talked about, and I think they will become clearer in due time. And I think he's telegraphed a number of his intentions in his various statements already. Mr. Lee.
Question: Sure. This is the follow‑up to Mr. Abbadi's question, and thanks for asking it. I understand what you're… you're saying you won't comment on the internal matters of the Republic of Korea. And that's fine. Mr.… former Secretary‑General Ban Ki‑moon said that António Guterres called him. Is this… can you confirm that that call took place?
Spokesman: No, I'm not in a position to do that.
Question: And I also wanted to ask you, in the Ng Lap Seng or previously known as the John Ashe case, there's yet another filing now amplifying that NGO 1, which is South‑South News, assisted Mr. Jeffrey Yin — this is the allegation — in evading taxes by paying him in cash. There's Bates stamps. It's all public. And I'm just wondering, it's been said here a number of times, including by Cristina Gallach, that they're monitoring that case. What does that mean? As new information come… are they awaiting the final…?
Spokesman: I will check… I will check what the status of their accreditation is.
Question: And Mr. Nesirky… a blast from the past. I understand that in Vienna he was actually asked yesterday about the former Secretary‑General and defences that he made at the time from — I don't know if it was this podium or another podium — of things that were alleged in South Korea to have been corrupt. Is that your understanding? Can we get a transcript of the Vienna Spokesperson's…?
Spokesman: I don't know. I don't know.
Question: Isn't it part of the same…?
Spokesman: It is, but I don't know. I can't speak for…
Question: The other Spokesman?
Spokesman: For the other Spokesman. I don't speak for spokespeople. Thank you.