The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
As you will have seen, the Secretary-General is meeting with Security Council members this morning in closed consultations, to discuss his trip to the African Union summit in Addis Ababa. The Secretary-General told you a few days ago about the enhanced cooperation between the AU and the UN. While he was in Addis, he met with AU leaders on South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and other key areas.
I also want to flag that the Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the ongoing tensions and intensification of the fighting in eastern Ukraine. He appeals to all parties to fully observe the ceasefire and allow for immediate humanitarian access. Also on Ukraine, the UN human rights office expressed its serious concern today over the dire humanitarian and human rights situation in the country’s east. The office reports that between 29 January and today, at least 7 people have been killed and 41 injured in shelling.
The UN human rights office teams are visiting locations and verifying reports of civilian casualties both in the Donetsk and Avdiivka areas, which were reportedly hit by shelling during the evening of 2 February. And you will have seen yesterday both the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, and Jeff Feltman, the Head of DPA [Department of Political Affairs], briefed the Security Council on Ukraine.
Turning to Myanmar, mass gang rape, killings, including of babies and young children, brutal beatings and disappearances are among the serious human rights violations by Myanmar’s security forces in northern Rakhine State’s detailed in a new report from the UN human rights office. The publication is based on interviews across the border in Bangladesh with more than 200 victims, the vast majority of whom reported witnessing killings and nearly half having a family member who was killed or is missing. Of the 101 women interviewed, more than half reported having been raped or suffering other forms of sexual violence.
Noting that the new report suggests an unprecedented level of violence, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, said that the Government of Myanmar must immediately halt these grave violations against its own people, instead of continuing to deny they have occurred. It should accept responsibility and ensure that victims have access to justice, reparations and safety.
And I also want to flag that the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, will lead a strategic assessment mission to Haiti next week, as requested by the Security Council. During his visit, Mr. Ladsous will also represent the Secretary-General at the inauguration of the new President.
The purpose of the mission is to develop a UN-wide understanding of the situation in the country through an assessment of the political, security, human rights, socioeconomic and humanitarian situation. The assessment will identify the critical needs of Haiti and will recommend options for the future configuration and presence of the UN in Haiti, to be presented in the next report of the Secretary-General, which is due in mid-March. These options will inform the Security Council on the way forward before the mandate of the mission expires on 15 April.
**Central African Republic
From the Central African Republic, the UN peacekeeping mission there and the Acting Humanitarian Coordinator in the country, Michel Yao, have both condemned the recent violence against civilian populations and humanitarian organizations perpetrated by armed groups in the Bocaranga district of the Ouham Pende prefecture.
Yesterday, the [Retour, Réclamation et Réparation] group and anti-Balakas armed groups attacked and pillaged Bocaranga, leading to the displacement of 9,000 people who have sought refuge in the forest. A site holding internally displaced people was attacked, as well as the compounds of international NGOs [non-governmental organizations]. Shops, a church and the market were pillaged. Civilians were reportedly killed and injured during the clashes. UN peacekeepers intervened to stop the violence and have been patrolling the area. They have also reinforced the protection of a number of sites.
And still on the Central African Republic, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the country, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, and the Special Representative for Central Africa, François Louncény Fall, are jointly calling for the immediate cessation of hostilities between the coalition led by the FPRC and UPC in the prefectures of Ouaka and Haute Kotto.
From South Sudan, our humanitarian colleagues report that thousands of people have been displaced from areas in and around Kajo-Keji in Central Equatoria, causing the outflow of civilians across the border to Uganda. More than 4,000 people arrived into Uganda on 28 January alone. Refugees report killings of civilians, sexual violence and fears of arrest and abduction as their main reasons for fleeing. There are currently around 30,000 people who were previously displaced from other locations in Central Equatoria sheltering in three internally displaced persons’ sites in Liwolo area, outside of Kajo-Keji. Humanitarians are responding to the needs of displaced people, but are facing increasing challenges as local businesses have shut down and reports of insecurity are rising.
We remain deeply concerned about the situation faced by civilians affected by anti-Da’esh operations in and around Al Bab in Syria’s Aleppo governorate. It is estimated that about around 30,000 civilians have fled Al Bab city and surroundings since late December 2016, heading mainly towards other districts in the Aleppo governorate. The UN and partners are providing assistance to those who are displaced, including through setting up reception and transit centres to receive and to provide basic assistance to those in need. Up to 10,000 civilians remain in Al Bab city, facing increasingly difficult conditions under Da’esh control, including severe movement restrictions. Access to Al Bab and surrounding areas has been severely curtailed for UN and its partners since its takeover by Da’esh nearly three years ago, as well as the ongoing military operations.
**Economic and Social Council
And I want to flag that we have a note from the President of the Economic and Social Council detailing the achievements of the recent Economic and Social Council Youth Forum, which was convened here on Monday and Tuesday. The Forum was held, according to the note, against the backdrop of a backlash against globalization, increasing inequality and a marked shift towards nationalism and isolation in many parts of the world. The full note can be found online and I think has been sent around to you.
**World Food Programme
The World Food Programme (WFP) and the Belgian Government are joining forces to explore the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs, in humanitarian emergencies. UAVs are increasingly recognized by aid organizations for their potential effectiveness in disaster response. They can help quickly collect information, achieve higher data accuracy, and provide safer monitoring systems in emergencies. If you’re interested, go to www.wfp.org.
**United Nations Children’s Fund
UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] today called on the European Union to take urgent action after a record number of refugee and migrant deaths in the Mediterranean over the past three months, including an estimated 190 children. At an EU summit today in Malta, UNICEF stressed the pressing need for Governments on both sides of the Mediterranean to do more to keep children safe, by saying that the decisions taken at the summit could literally mean the difference between life and death for thousands of children.
And a senior personnel appointment for today: the Secretary-General is announcing the appointment of Susan McDade of Canada as Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau for Management Services at the UN Development Programme (UNDP). Ms. McDade will succeed Jens Wandel of Denmark, and the Secretary-General is grateful to Mr. Wandel for his dedication and commitment during his term at UNDP. Ms. McDade brings many years of leadership experience to this position, most recently as Deputy Assistant Administrator and Deputy Director of the Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean and also as the Resident Coordinator in Uruguay and Cuba, among other posts.
And I just want to say a big thank you to our friends in Algiers and Kuwait City who have paid both their regular budget dues in full and on time, so thank you to them. Which brings us to 27. That is your cue to ask questions. Matthew?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, I guess, about this very detailed report about abuses of the Rohingya in Myanmar, I know that the… the… the mandate of the… the good offices expired, but I'm wondering, what is the Secretary‑General's thought? I asked the UK ambassador. He said there are… different ways of being considered of how… for the UN to deal with this problem. Is there any proposal by the Secretary‑General either to revive that office or a different office or have some increased focus…?
Spokesman: I don't think there will be a revision of that office, but that is not to say that there will be… there continues to be keen interest in the situation in Myanmar, obviously, on the human rights issue but also what the UN can assist and can do on the development issue through the coordinated work of the UN development agencies in Myanmar and, obviously, on the political front, in which DPA will be in the lead. But, it will be a coordinated outlook on behalf of the UN system.
Question: Right, but when you say the political, do you mean in terms of… does the Secretary‑General believe, for example, that the Rohingya should be… are… are… are and should be acknowledged as citizens of Myanmar?
Spokesman: I think we have… this is an ongoing discussion. I think the Secretary‑General, the UN has been very clear on the need to address the needs of the Rohingyas in a way that respects their rights and that is good for country as a whole. Yes, sir?
Question: Jonathan Sanders from iCastNews. I noted yesterday on Donetsk that Jeffrey Feltman said that there were 10,000 explosions in Donetsk in the preceding 24 hours. I wonder, where does that figure come from? Is there a piece of technology that the UN is using to listen to gunfire, the way some cities have sound monitors to triangulate…?
Spokesman: No, it's not through technology. It's through information that comes to us through public sources and other sources. But, we have… it's not through any technology that the UN has on site. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Thanks. Did António Guterres talk to the Security Council about the Trump immigration ban, as Bolivia had requested, in the closed session?
Spokesman: Not that I'm aware of. I… as far as I'm aware, the discussions that may still be ongoing are focused on his trip to the African Union, updating the Council on the various meetings he had on Burundi, South Sudan, the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] and others.
Question: So, you don't know if that's on the agenda?
Spokesman: I'm not aware… I'm just saying what… I'm just sharing with what you I'm aware of.
Question: Also, on personnel, can we get a list of the top UN officials who have submitted their resignations?
Spokesman: What I… what you have available on the public website are the lists of personnel appointment… of vacancies having to do with… basically at the USG [Under-Secretary-General] level, and they're all on the Secretary‑General's appointments page. Okay. Linda?
Question: Thank you, Steph. May I just have a clarification regarding the fighting in Eastern Ukraine? You mentioned that seven civilians have been killed. There's been shelling of 41. I was wondering which side is responsible for that situation?
Spokesman: You know, as I said, we don't have any forensics. What we're really focusing on right now is on the need for cessation of the hostilities in order for the humanitarian situation to improve for us to have humanitarian access. Those figures came out of our colleagues in the Human Rights Office. But, I'm not sure where… at least, I'm not in a position here to tell you who did what. Yes, Evelyn?
Question: Thank you, Steph. On the Ukraine, is there any update on whether OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] or anyone else can monitor the abuses in eastern Ukraine?
Spokesman: Well, I think the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) representative briefed the Council in the open briefing. I would refer you to… I have no update from what was said yesterday. Matthew?
Correspondent: Sure. Let me ask you something else, but just on these senior-level vacancies, I did notice that the DPI [Department of Public Information] position is up. And I just wanted to confirm… this means, essentially, that… it's not like somebody that holds the position can reapply. This means that it's over.
Spokesman: It just means the position is open. Anyone can apply to the position.
Question: And I guess my… I saw the qualifications under it and I just… this is just an aside, and I promise I'll get back to a question. But it seems like maybe due process and sort of like… in terms of… it seems… is this job description of the qualifications of the person applying for that any different than it was two years ago?
Spokesman: I think job descriptions shift. I'd have to look… I don't have at the top of my head the job description that was… that's been used in the past.
Question: Okay. More… I just wanted to know, because you mentioned USGs. So, for example, DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], there's a lot of discussion about it. Can you just say, is this ever going to show up as a vacancy? And if not, why not given the…
Spokesman: No, I can only speak to what's online and what's there. I think others will come as they come.
Question: Okay. And the other… if you… I just… yesterday, the meeting with the Saudi Foreign Minister, I saw that you were there. So, I wanted to ask you something about it. I noticed… first, there's no readout. Is that a new policy of…?
Spokesman: No, sometimes we have readouts. Sometimes we don't. They had what was a very broad‑ranging discussion on regional issues, and it should come as no surprise, on Yemen, on Syria, on Israel and Palestine, on the region. It was the first time they had met as… that Mr. Guterres had met the Foreign Minister as Foreign Minister, so it was a good discussion.
Question: And can I ask specifically whether the issue of the Children and Armed Conflict annex… I didn't see Ms. [Leila] Zerrougui up there. Did she come in after the photo op? Or, if she wasn't there, why wasn't she there? And did this issue get raised?
Spokesman: As I said, it was a broad‑ranging issue, and obviously, included… included Yemen. And there were no… no one sneaked into the meeting after the photo op. Rosalyn?
Question: Hi. I'd like to go back to Myanmar. Has the Secretary‑General had a chance to look at the new report on the alleged human rights violations? And, if so, what is his reaction?
Spokesman: He's, obviously, aware of the report and the broad contents of it. I think the report raises a number of very serious allegations, which deserve an immediate and serious response, including a credible and impartial investigation into the claims and real accountability for any perpetrators.
Question: And is… is it his… is it appropriate for the Secretary‑General to reach out either to the President of Myanmar or to Aung San Suu Kyi to talk about the concerns that the Government may be at least behaving in a discriminatory way, at the very, very least…?
Spokesman: I think it's very… it's appropriate for the Secretary‑General to have discussions with any leaders in any country. And obviously, this is an issue that he is paying attention to. Yes, Mr Lee?
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. I wanted to ask… and I know that yesterday you'd said to… to… to pursue this… some people are calling it a scandal, but the issue of… of the whistle-blower at the Office of … of High Commissioner for Human Rights with them. And there definitely are issues that are only theirs. I guess I could just ask you as a policy matter whether it's still the practice to turn over the list pre… to pre‑turn over the list of attendees to Governments or when they say…
Spokesman: I think they address… the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights addressed this very clearly.
Correspondent: My question and I try to say… try to really boil it down. There are parts…
Spokesman: And I think they were very clear in their response.
Correspondent: Okay. There are parts of this that are directly about… concerning the Ethics Office. I want to ask about that and the memo and just if you can say is it in, fact, a violation of UN rules for a UN staff member to have a country sponsor a book‑selling event? That's descr… that's in the memo, so I wanted to know…
Spokesman: I don't… you know, I'm not going to speak about the memo. I think, as a matter of principle, if staff members have an issue and they think there may be a conflict, it is their responsibility to go to the Ethics Office.Question: But, in the past, Robert Benson, there have been other ethics officers who have come… this is a request that the ethics officer… officer, Ms. [Elia] Armstrong, do a press briefing. Like, we've never… I asked you before about the e-mail that went out about not participating in the Women's March. It was unclear who signed it. Is it possible to have her to come, as her predecessors have, to actually explain what these rules are as it relates to a very troubling whistle-blower case?
Spokesman: We can… I think we can see what she could do, but, obviously, she's not going to speak to specific cases. Okay. Thank you. Evelyn?
Question: Yes. I'm… I listened to the SG, and I've read the reports. I'm still confused on South Sudan of how everyone thinks this will be solved. There's no arms embargo. There's no this. We're not sure when the East African troops are arriving. Is there a magic solution that I'm missing?
Spokesman: Well, I think if there was a magic solution, I have no doubt it would have been invoked. What is important is that… one, that the political leaders in South Sudan live up to their responsibilities and that there be a unified front on the part of the neighbours. And I would refer you back to the greater details that the Secretary‑General gave following his meetings with IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development]. Thank you.