The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, everyone.
**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Earlier this morning, we issued the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the launch of another ballistic missile by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: The Secretary-General strongly condemns the launch of another ballistic missile by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) on 12 February. This action is a further troubling violation of Security Council resolutions. The DPRK leadership must return to full compliance with its international obligations and to the path of denuclearization. The Secretary-General appeals to the international community to continue to address this situation in a united manner.
Earlier today, the Secretary-General spoke to the World Government Summit in Dubai. In his remarks to the plenary, he focused on the lack of trust in today’s world and said that the need to improve governance is essential. He said that if you look at the UN, for instance, there is a clear lack of confidence in the Security Council today and a clear perception that the Security Council no longer corresponds to the logic of today’s world in relation to what the world was after the Second World War, when the Security Council was built. The Secretary-General said that there is a need for deep reforms in global institutions and he added that he is committed to driving reform of the UN as head of the Secretariat.
On the sidelines of the meeting in Dubai, the Secretary-General met with the ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum. The Secretary-General then flew to Abu Dhabi, where he will stay overnight. He just met with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces.
Over the weekend, the Secretary-General was in Saudi Arabia, where he visited the Coalition Air Force’s Joint Operations Centre yesterday and was briefed on the coalition’s air operations in Yemen. Later in the day the Secretary-General met separately with King Salman, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The Secretary-General was then hosted for a working lunch by Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir. In a joint press conference afterwards, the Secretary-General was asked about the Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismaïl Ould Cheikh Ahmed, and he said that he believes that the Special Envoy is doing impartial work in a very professional way and has the Secretary-General’s full support.
The Security Council is holding an open debate today on the protection of critical infrastructure against terrorist attacks. Speaking on behalf of the Secretary-General, his Chef de Cabinet, Maria Luiza Viotti, said that the threat posed by terrorist organizations is becoming increasingly complex, making critical infrastructure — such as energy facilities and water supply — especially vulnerable.
She stressed that the transnational nature of terrorism requires the coordinated response of all states and actors of the international community. Also speaking at the debate were top officials from INTERPOL and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Following this meeting, there will be consultations on non-proliferation and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
**Central African Republic
From the Central African Republic, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, MINUSCA, said over the weekend that it intervened in the area of Bambari in the framework of its protection-of-civilians mandate. On Saturday, members of the coalition led by the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de Centrafrique were approaching Bambari, increasing the threat of violent clashes in the town. The UN Mission had no other choice but to stop the advance of the group and the threat it posed, and a helicopter from the UN Mission intervened.
The Mission reports today that UN peacekeepers established a temporary operating base at Tagbara bridge to prevent further movement of the [Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de Centrafrique] coalition towards Bambari. Peacekeepers, including special forces, were also deployed to the area [to reinforce their presence in the town of Ippy]. The UN mission reiterates its call to both the Mouvement pour l’Unité et la Paix en Centrafrique and the [Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de Centrafrique] coalition to immediately cease hostilities and to resolve this dispute through dialogue.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) expressed its concern about the persistent conflict in the Kasais. Violent acts committed by the Kamuina Nsapu militia include the recruitment and use of child soldiers and targeting symbols and institutions of State authority. The Mission is also concerned by the disproportionate use of force by the Congolese Army in its response to the situation. It has reinforced its civilian and uniformed personnel presence in the area, and has also deployed one of its Mobile Monitoring Response Team to help prevent, investigate and document human rights violations.
The UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, is currently in Somalia for his first visit to the country since his appointment. Since his arrival on Saturday, Mr. Gilmour has held several high-level meetings with senior state officials, civil society, AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia], and UN entities present on the ground. The main objective of his visit was to assess the human rights situation and explore ways to further integrate human rights into both security operations and political processes.
On South Sudan, humanitarian organizations are appealing for $1.6 billion to provide life-saving assistance and protection to 5.8 million people across the country in 2017. The Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Eugene Owusu, said that the humanitarian situation in the country has deteriorated dramatically due to the devastating combination of conflict, economic decline and climatic shocks. He said that in 2017, there will be unprecedented needs, in an unprecedented number of locations, and that these needs will increase during the upcoming lean season. Mr. Owusu said that it is imperative that this appeal is funded early and fully, so that the aid workers deployed across South Sudan can respond robustly and rapidly.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has expressed its grave concern at the recent escalation of violence in Helmand province, which has reportedly claimed the lives of at least 25 civilians, mostly women and children. In a statement, UNAMA said that the people of Helmand have suffered greatly due to the armed conflict in Afghanistan, with nearly 900 civilians killed or injured during 2016. That figure was the highest in the country in 2016 outside of Kabul. UNAMA reiterated the need for all parties to strictly adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law to take all feasible measures to protect civilians.
On Sunday, an inter-agency humanitarian convoy delivered food, health, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene and other emergency items to Syria’s Ar Rastan area in northern rural Homs for 107,500 people in need. Some health, non-food items, nutrition and water and sanitation supplies were removed during the loading process. The UN continues to call for unconditional, unimpeded and sustained access — including for all health and medical-related items — to the 4.7 million people in hard-to-reach locations across the country, including more than 640,000 in besieged locations.
We also remain deeply concerned for the situation of civilians impacted by anti-Da’esh operations in and around Al Bab. It is estimated that around 30,000 civilians have fled Al Bab city and its surroundings since late December 2016. The UN and partners are providing assistance to those who are displaced, including through setting up reception and transit centres to receive and 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.
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) condemned the rocket attack on Saturday evening on Baghdad’s Green Zone. At a time when the fight against Da’esh terrorism remains a priority, this sort of action only serves the interests and objectives of the terrorists. UNAMI also condemned the attack that took place early Sunday morning against the Independent High Electoral Commission Governorate Electoral Office in Basra, in which unknown gunmen fired gunshots at the facility. The use of force and any threats of violence against the Electoral Commission and its staff are not acceptable and should not be allowed to happen.
And today we thank Djibouti, which has paid its regular dues in full for 2017. This brings the total on the Honour Roll to 34. That is it for me. Are there any questions? Yes, Rosalyn.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Farhan, thanks. First, on the latest incident involving North Korea, does the Secretary‑General believe that it is possible in any way to reconstitute the six‑party‑talks process, or should any of the members of the P5, most notably the US, perhaps consider a unilateral approach to trying to deal with this constant threat from North Korea?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, to reiterate what I said at the top of the briefing, the Secretary‑General's appeal to the international community is to continue to address the situation in a united manner. So, although different parties might want to consider unilateral efforts, we do believe that the sort of efforts, including the six‑party approach that you had mentioned, that have been tried in the past are an advance forward for us insofar as they keep the international community united in the response to dealing with the challenge posed by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Question: A quick follow‑up. Has the Secretary‑General had opportunity to have discussions with the US, with Russia, with China, in particular, about this latest missile launch?
Deputy Spokesman: Not about this latest one. Of course, he's been in touch with them on a number of different topics. But, regarding the DPRK, he has… he's made his views known in the past, and he'll continue to engage, including through our offices for Political Affairs and Disarmament Affairs. Yes, Oleg?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. On the nomination of former Palestinian Prime Minister, there were reports that, at first, Mr. [António] Guterres got some clearance from the countries' members of the Security Council, among them the US. And after that, he was surprised when… when, actually, the US blocked the… the… the appointment. Is that true? Can you comment on that?
Deputy Spokesman: What I can say is that the action he took in putting forward Mr. [Salam] Fayyad's name as a potential Special Representative for Libya was based on the information and the understandings he had at the time. Of course, now, in retrospect, it's clear that some of that… some of the information and the understandings that we had did not hold up. What the Secretary‑General made clear today is he said that he believed that Mr. Fayyad was the right person for the right job at the right moment, and he spoke in Dubai just now about Mr. Fayyad's competence, and he said: "I think it's a loss for the Libyan peace process and for the Libyan people that I'm not able to appoint him."
Question: Quick follow‑up. These understandings he got, were they based on the consultations with all of the Council members?
Deputy Spokesman: I wouldn't want to characterize it any further than I just said. We do consult broadly in the course of make appointments, and, like I said, based on the understanding he had at the time, he believed he could go forward.
Question: And does he plan to put forward another candidate or what? What is he going to do now?
Deputy Spokesman: We'll see where we go from here. Right now, as of today, just like last Friday when I told you I didn't have anything to announce, today, I still have nothing to announce in terms of a Special Representative for Libya. If there's an appointment, at that point, we'll let you know. Richard?
Question: Farhan, same topic. I realize confidences must be kept, but this is a simple question. Did SG Guterres speak personally with Ambassador [Nikki] Haley regarding this nomination?
Deputy Spokesman: I can't characterize the full range of discussions he had. Like I said, he did… he and the Secretariat did consult prior to this, and we believed we had the understandings in hand. We… but we did not. Yes?
Question: So, I mean, does that leave the SG a bit confused about where the United States stands on things where, in effect, he announced something; suddenly, he's left holding the bag. I would feel a little frustrated or confused myself about who talks for who with the US. Is that fair, at all? I mean…
Deputy Spokesman: Well, in terms of frustration, I think the Secretary‑General put it very clearly today, where he says: "I deeply regret this opposition, and I do not see any valid reason for it. Having said so, I think the UN needs to be able to act with impartiality in all circumstances and cannot be biased in favour of anybody." But, at the same time, he… like I said, he did not believe that any real allegations of bias had any real validity regarding Mr. Fayyad and his responsibilities, were he to take up the job on Libya. Yes?
Question: Sure. First… I guess I wanted to… it seems like one of the… the… the messages coming out of this is that is… from Stéphane's statement that he sent out on Friday is that nationality is… these are international civil servants. Nationality has nothing to do with it. And I wanted to know, first… I wanted to get your response to, if it's true that nationality doesn't matter, will you confirm that, after France having controlled peacekeeping now four times in a row, that the three candidates to replace Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous are Silvie Bermann, Mr. [Jean-Pierre] Lacroix, and Mr. [Jean-Maurice] Ripert? And, if so, if it's going to be French, then how can it be said that nationality is not playing a part in these appointments?
Deputy Spokesman: First of all, I think you're trying to tie in two different things. What we're talking about is the idea that United Nations staff serves strictly in their personal capacity and do not represent any Government or country. That is certainly the case. Regarding geographic distribution of posts, as you know, anytime there are senior posts, there is an idea that there will be a certain geographic distribution in which different nations and different groups of nations will be represented, and that is part of the process. Regarding peacekeeping, no, I wouldn't confirm any of those names.
Question: But what… but if the question is meritocracy, how… what… is it just a coincidence that the same… the UK has controlled OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] twice in a row; France has controlled peacekeeping four times in a row; the US has controlled DPA [Department of Political Affairs]. Is it… I mean, I guess, just serious… are you seriously saying that, in each case, the most meritorious person for these posts only came from the country that already controlled the post in the past?
Deputy Spokesman: Again, I don't see how this has anything to do with Salam Fayyad, and so it's not really a follow-up question. Regarding the question of meritocracy, yes, we do go for merit. And there are people of merit that can be found in every nationality. That's not at issue. What we do have at the UN is concerns to make sure that merit is rewarded, that there is a distribution, geographic distribution of posts, so all the nations of the world feel themselves and their groups fairly represented, and that there is distribution according to gender that is also just. Within that spectrum, you can find qualified people of every race, of every religion, of every nationality. Yes, Rosalyn?
Question: But why are some USG [Under-Secretary-General] posts… posts advertised on the website for all countries to apply and some are not? Can you just explain that?
Deputy Spokesman: There's a process that we go through, and we follow rules and… regarding every appointment. Yes?
Question: Back to Mr. Fayyad's appointment, first, what is the legal basis for the US objection? I was getting conflicting interpretations of whether any member of the Security Council could actually stand in the way of this appointment. Is it because this is a mission that was specifically created by a Security Council resolution? And, then, if that is, in fact, the case, what happens now? What is the Secretary‑General thinking about doing in terms of resolving this situation?
Deputy Spokesman: Regarding the roles of the Security Council, the Security Council is consulted on all appointments having to do with senior officials who report directly to the Security Council or carry out its mandates. So, that is part of the standard procedure in which all of the 15 members of the Security Council have a say. Regarding where we go forward from here, the Secretary‑General will continue his consultations. We'll let you know of an appointment once something is decided. Yes, Olga?
Question: Thank you… thank you, Farhan. There will be another round of talks on Syria in Astana starting from 15 February. Can you please say if somebody from UN will take part in these talks?
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, we'll see whether the UN is invited to have a role. And, depending upon that, we will make our decision accordingly about our participation. Yes?
Question: Just to clarify. So the Secretary‑General has no intention of trying to convince the United States to not block this appointment?
Deputy Spokesman: I think what he said from Dubai today is fairly clear about that. Dulcie?
Question: Yeah. Regarding Israeli papers reporting that Tzipi Livni has been approached by António Guterres for a USG position, what is the status of that? And… and… the reports suggest that this was a way to counterbalance the Palestinian appointment. Thanks.
Deputy Spokesman: We saw some of these reports over the weekend and denied them at the time. I don't have anything further to say than that. Yes?
Question: So, going forward, what is the lesson… what does the SG take as a lesson from the Fayyad case… not talking about Fayyad's appointment, but just about this question of, if you go for consultations from the Security Council and you think you have an understanding and, suddenly, that's gone and it's public, how do you avoid that in the future? I mean, I… that's what I wonder about.
Deputy Spokesman: Certainly, the Secretary‑General wanted to make that point clear. Again, from today's comments, one of the things he wants the nations also to understand, as he puts it, "It's very important to underline that nobody in the UN represents a Government or a country. People in the UN have just one area of loyalty they need to respect. It's the UN Charter." We hold all officials to that, and we hope that all nations understand and respect that. Yes, Carole?
Question: Farhan, I'm sorry if you've answered this question, but is he looking for a new… is the SG looking for a new candidate for… to be his SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] on Libya?
Deputy Spokesman: Our consultations about how to fill that position continue. Yes?
Question: Yeah. Just follow‑up: So, did the US Mission or Nikki Haley let António Guterres know they were going to release this statement rejecting the Palestinians' nomination, or did he learn about it through the media? Thanks.
Deputy Spokesman: We learned that the objection procedure… the no-objection procedure or what's known as the silence procedure had been broken on Friday. For anything about who the US informed and how, you'd have to ask the US Mission. Yes, Nabil?
Question: Farhan, I would like to ask about the procedure as… is this procedure written somewhere? How can we know who decides about these decisions to appoint a senior position like that? Is this written in the Charter or what's the rule here…?
Deputy Spokesman: No, it's not a written series of rules. But, what I can say is, as I pointed out to your colleague just now, that, for senior officials who report to the Security Council on Security Council mandates, the Security Council is inherently part of the consultation process. Linda?
Question: But… but… can I follow up? But, the final decision here is in the Secretariat, or it should be a result of the consultations?
Deputy Spokesman: The Secretary‑General makes appointments, but he does so in consultations with all the key parties. Yes?
Question: Is there any precedent in this regard? Was any such request rejected before? And how did the Secretariat deal with it?
Deputy Spokesman: There have been silence procedures broken before. I wouldn't be the one to make direct parallels. I think that's the sort of analytical thing that you guys do, not me. Linda?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Following up… following up on the question of whether or not the SG was given advanced notice of the statement by the US rejecting Fayyad, I was wondering sort of the reverse. Was the United States and all the Security Council members informed in writing that Fayyad was being appointed?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes.
Question: How… how far in advance?
Deputy Spokesman: In advance of what happened on Friday, certainly. The Security Council was informed in writing, yes.
Question: Sure. I guess just on that, I'd asked you before or maybe it was Stéphane [Dujarric] about this 8 February letter that was sent to the Council. And it says… a lot of these questions seem to go… his letter to the Council on 8 February said: "Following the usual consultations." So can you just say what are the usual consultations? Prior to such a letter going out, are all 15 members of the Security Council contacted? Are only the P5 contacted? What are the usual consultations referred to in that letter?
Deputy Spokesman: I wouldn't clarify it further than that. There's a normal procedure, and that was what was followed in this case.
Question: Right, but don't you think it's good to describe what the procedure is as matter of transparency?
Deputy Spokesman: It involves the key countries, such as the members of the Security Council.
Question: Including non‑Council members? Do they have a right to block envoys? Did you consult in Libya? Whom did you consult?
Deputy Spokesman: There were consultations with involved parties, including the Security Council but also including the… those who would be essential in terms of having support for an envoy’s work. That's in line with the appointment procedure for every envoy. Yes?
Question: In light of the fact that the US made note of Mr. Fayyad's nationality, is the Secretary‑General concerned that he's going to have to work doubly hard in order to appoint people to these civil service positions regardless of their nationality, that it's going to be a heavier lift now for him to fill the positions that he needs filled in order to carry out his work?
Deputy Spokesman: We certainly hope not, and we certainly hope that all Member States understand the point that he was making over the weekend, which is that it should not matter what the nationality of appointees should be. It should matter what their credentials are and what their expertise is. He is doing his job to make sure that the people he appoints will have the best professional expertise to do the job. And questions about their nationality shouldn't arise when they're doing the job as international civil servants loyal to the UN Charter. Yes?
Question: Was the Palestinian Authority consulted on this? And is Mr. Fayyad himself, was he consulted on this?
Deputy Spokesman: Of course, we consult with candidates before they… before we submit them forward, yes.
Question: But not the Palestinian Authority?
Deputy Spokesman: A lot of different entities were consulted in terms of the people… the groups who would be relevant for the course of this process. Yes?
Question: Okay. All right. I'm going to go non‑Fayyad, if it's okay. I want to ask on Burundi, CAR [Central African Republic] and Kenya. In Burundi, the talks that are re-beginning, there's a list out of the participants, but it says at the bottom of the lists that the… the opposition's attendance is contingent on discussions with Pierre Nkurunziza to grant conditional immunity. And I guess is that… how is that… since the UN is supporting this process, is it really a process if one side gets to choose who from the other side can attend? What is the role of the UN in… in… in ensuring inclusivity of the talks?
Deputy Spokesman: We have stressed and will continue to stress the need for all talks to be inclusive. And we want, therefore, all people to be able to participate in a manner that is not conditional.
Correspondent: But, what is… I mean, conditioned on immunity. This is a letter… this is a document from Mr. [Benjamin] Mkapa, and he seems to be accepting that Pierre Nkurunziza can choose who can attend.
Deputy Spokesman: We're in touch with the parties, and we're doing what we can to ensure that talks will be as inclusive as possible.
Question: And I wanted to ask, on the Central African Republic announcement that you made, the reports say that… that… or the people that were fired on say that one commander, but also three civilians were killed. What is the UN's estimate of what the effect of using the helicopter, I guess, gunships was?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, at this stage, we are still trying to evaluate what happened as a result of its actions. Like I said, we had no choice but to take the particular action we did once it was clear that the actions being taken by the FPRC could harm civilians in Bambari. The coalition led by the FPRC refused to end its military campaign, has made taking Bambari its main objective. From our standpoint, we had been trying to mediate and urged them to engage in dialogue. So we continue to stress that and we continue to stress the need to protect civilians, including in Bambari. And so we're hopeful that the armed groups, the FPRC and the UPC, will now stop crossing the red lines that they're not to cross. It's because a red line was crossed that we had to engage.
Question: But, if a military intervention… if it's true what's being… what this says that… that the ratio between civilians and combatant casualties is 1 to 3, or 75 per cent civilian, is it acceptable to the UN? And what's the mechanism to investigate that?
Deputy Spokesman: We're looking into see exactly what happened, what the casualties were, whether they were civilians or combatants. At this stage, we don't have those sorts of figures, those sorts of numbers. It's clear that a helicopter from the UN Mission had to intervene because the FPRC members went into an uninhabited zone. That necessitated our action, and that was designed to protect the civilians in Bambari. Had we not acted, the fear was that that would mean that there would be actual fighting involving civilians in Bambari. Yes?
Question: Back to Prime Minister's Fayyad's appointment or lack thereof, is the Secretary‑General able to make the appointment despite the US objection to it?
Deputy Spokesman: All I can say at this stage, you've seen what's happened with the consultations process. We were not able to get the result we wanted, and the Secretary‑General himself has said that, as I said earlier: "I think it's a loss for the Libyan peace process and the Libyan people that I'm not able to appoint him." The consultations will continue, but that is what he said as of today. What?
Question: So, a Member State of the United Nations essentially… whether they're a P5 member or not, essentially has the power to overrule an appointment by the Secretary‑General?
Deputy Spokesman: There's a consultation process, and this is in line with what happens with all envoys who have to report to the Security Council.
Question: Yes, but the final decision rests with whom, the consultation process or the Secretary‑General?
Deputy Spokesman: The final decision rests with the Secretary‑General, but when you make an appointment, you want that person to be able to do their job and have the support that that person would need, which includes the support of the Security Council.
Question: So, it sounds like he's not going to get appointed. So, he's not going to get appointed then is what you're saying?
Deputy Spokesman: I've told you what the Secretary‑General's just said today. Yes?
Question: Do you think the Secretary‑General’s — his power or reputation — is diminished by the Fayyad incident, that it's embarrassing for him personally? It's a blow to his credibility?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't think it should be a blow to his credibility. I think it's really suggested there is a problem where people's perceptions should not blind them to the actual qualifications of a person for the job.
Question: The United States' perception?
Deputy Spokesman: The Secretary‑General has made clear, in this case, where he stands on that, that concerns about someone's nationality should not arise in this case.
Question: But, do you think people will talk to him now and say, hey, I can't really count on him because he can't deliver?
Deputy Spokesman: There are many times when Member States pose difficulties. This is not the first time or the first Secretary‑General who has had difficulties created by disagreements among Member States. These are early days yet. And we'll try to bring the Member States around so that they understand the nature of the work we have to do and support that work. Otherwise, the consequences will be large, not just for Libya in this case but for our overall work. We need the support of key bodies. This Secretary‑General, like his predecessors, has made clear, one thing you definitely need is the support of the Security Council. And we will work with the members of the Security Council to make sure that that is in place.
Question: Do you think that the US Administration, the new Administration and Ambassador Haley, they don't understand the concept of the UN charter then?
Deputy Spokesman: I wouldn't say that. That's not something I've said…
Question: In terms of the professionalism and…?
Deputy Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General has made his views on this clear, and he will continue to make it clear. And we will continue to work with the US and with other key Member States to make sure that they understand the objectives we're trying to achieve.
Question: Farhan, let me ask you this. If Prime Minister Fayyad is not appointed to this position, what message will that send to the rest of the world?
Deputy Spokesman: You are the people who are responsible for understand… for explaining what message the world should receive from this. So, I trust that you will explain exactly what message they get from that. Yes?
Question: Yeah, in the readout that you posted regarding António Guterres' meeting in Saudi Arabia, I didn't see anything in there about the Children and Armed Conflict report. Did that come up for discussion? And also, the… the meet… the media interchange, the questions from the media were not verbatim. They were… looks like they were summarized. Is that a new format you're taking or what… what's the thinking behind that?
Deputy Spokesman: No, not really. That's what happens when we tape it and can't quite hear what the questions were. So that is… that's what happens, for example, in cases where people don't speak into the microphone and so forth. But, we try to make as much of an approximation of what was asked as could be made. Regarding the report on Children and Armed Conflict, I don't really have anything further to say beyond what's in the readouts. As you know, that report… the review of it is ongoing even now. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to… two things. One on… well, anyway, there's a big story in The Guardian about criticism of the UN system for not calling the return of Afghan refugees from Pakistan refoulement, and in fact, sort of standing by as people are forced back into a dangerous situation. So, I wanted to know, since the Secretary‑General… this is his issue, does he believe that the… the return of these Afghans from Pakistan is refoulement or not?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, first of all, we're… we do appreciate the hospitality that Pakistan has given to over a million undocumented Afghans for decades. That's been crucial. At the same time, the ongoing negative rhetoric, stigmatism, and labelling of the Afghan population in Pakistan and how this is adversely increasing their vulnerability, safety, and security in Pakistan is of concern. We believe that Pakistan and Afghanistan should work together to finalize a mechanism for documenting undocumented Afghans living in Pakistan. Returnees should be provided with detailed information on the situation in their place of origin to allow them to take into account their current situation in regards to security, governance, and livelihoods and to make a fully informed choice. And we believe that Pakistan must uphold their obligations under international laws, including the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which was signed in 2016.
Question: Okay. I won't ask about the "R" word, but I wanted to ask… this is about Kenya. There's two things. There's a… first, there's a report of a letter to the Secretary‑General from IDPs [internally displaced persons] in South Sudan saying that they have concerns about the use of Kenyan peacekeepers given what they see as Kenya's role including the abduction of SPLA‑IO [Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition] leaders in Nairobi. And I wanted to know, are you aware of that letter? What does the Secretary‑General think of the letter? And has the resident coordinator in Kenya said anything about these… you know, people going missing and reappearing in South Sudan?
Deputy Spokesman: I'm aware of the reports of missing persons. I'm not aware of the letter, however, that you're talking about.
Question: And one other thing just very… because I see it as related. It's up to you but… and I don't know how you'll respond it. So, there's a story that the former Secretary‑General, Ban Ki‑moon, is in Kenya, and this has been confirmed to me by staff there. His quote… and this is why I'm asking it. His quote as he left to go there is he plans to meet and encourage UN staff in Kenya. And I wanted to know, is that true? Is there any formal process? Is there any cost to the UN of this? And what can you say about this report?
Deputy Spokesman: I'm not a Spokesperson for Ban Ki‑moon anymore.
Correspondent: I know but you are a Deputy Spokesman for the UN.
Deputy Spokesman: When he travels, he travels as a private citizen. And I wish him well in all of his travels.
Question: Given his son‑in‑law is the head of the… of… of… of … Resident Coordinator in Kenya, what is his engagement with the UN system in Kenya while he's there?
Deputy Spokesman: I know that you need to get over this, but he is a private citizen. He can go wherever he wants without me having any responsibility for reporting on any of that.
Question: His son‑in‑law happens to be the head… [Inaudible] what is the UN spin on this? You answer for that.
Deputy Spokesman: He's not a UN official anymore, and therefore, when he travels, he travels as a private citizen.
Question: Farhan, AFP is reporting the Syria talks to start on 23 February and not 20 February. Can you confirm the change? And why, why the change?
Deputy Spokesman: What I can say… It's not quite a change. What I can tell you is the Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura, is actively engaged in diplomatic efforts to ensure a successful confirmation of arrangements for the convening of intra‑Syrian negotiations in Geneva. We can confirm that letters have been sent today and that consultations are continuing. It's expected that delegations would arrive in Geneva on or about 20 February to enable prior consultations with the Special Envoy and his team before the formal start of intra‑Syrian negotiations, which is planned for the 23 February. Have a good afternoon, everyone.