The following is a near‑verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
About an hour ago, we issued a statement of the African Union and the UN on the situation in South Sudan. The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, and the Secretary‑General both strongly condemn the recent violations of the 21 December Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities, Protection of Civilians and Humanitarian Access in South Sudan. They both call on all South Sudanese fighting parties to immediately cease all hostilities, desist from undertaking any further military operations, and uphold their commitments. They further call on the parties to uphold their primary responsibility to protect civilians, adhere to international human rights and humanitarian law and ensure safe and unhindered humanitarian access.
The Chairperson of the African Union Commission and the Secretary‑General reaffirm their belief that there can only be a political solution to the conflict in South Sudan, and the parties must demonstrate the political will to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and update the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan, in order to end the appalling suffering inflicted on the South Sudanese population.
Our humanitarian colleagues in Yemen have an update for you on access to the country’s ports. Since 20 December of last year, when the Saudi‑led Coalition had announced that it would keep Yemen's Red Sea ports of Hodeidah and Saleef open for a period of one month for both humanitarian and commercial cargo, 13 vessels have delivered food and much‑needed fuel through the two ports. More deliveries are in the pipeline.
The Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, has welcomed the opening of Hodeidah and Saleef to commercial and humanitarian shipments. He called on the Saudi‑led Coalition to continue allowing vessels into the Red Sea ports, and for the Houthis to desist from threatening this vital access route. He also lauded the Coalition’s approval to move four cranes to Hodeidah Port to enhance the capacity of the port and allow for faster offloading of vessels.
A total of 22 million people in Yemen are in need of humanitarian assistance. Over 70 per cent of them live in proximity to Hodeidah and Saleef ports. That statement is online.
From Iraq, we are told that military operations targeting suspected Daesh (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) militants in Kirkuk’s Hawija district have continued to cause civilian displacement, according to our colleagues on the ground. More than 1,000 people have been displaced since the start of these operations on 4 January.
Those displaced by the fighting are being transported to nearby Daquq displacement camp, where humanitarians are providing assistance. More information, I believe, is online from our colleagues at OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs).
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us they launched yesterday their revised Multi‑Year Humanitarian Response Plan 2017‑2018 for that country [Haiti] — that is in collaboration with the Ministry of Planning and External Cooperation.
This plan requires $252 million to provide assistance to 2.2 million Haitians out of an estimated 2.8 million people in need.
While the situation in Haiti has improved, humanitarian needs persist, including to address food insecurity and malnutrition, cholera and deportations and repatriations from the Dominican Republic.
Haiti also remains highly vulnerable to natural disasters, with structural weaknesses in the national coordination and development capacity.
And of course, on this anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, eight years ago, our thoughts are with the families of all the victims, including, of course, the families of our colleagues who perished in the disaster. And we are also thinking about all our colleagues who survived this traumatic event.
Today, UNHCR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) renewed its appeal to countries to offer more resettlement places and other safe alternatives to protect refugees after 160 people were reported dead or missing in three separate incidents in the Mediterranean this week.
Back in September, UNHCR appealed for 40,000 resettlement places for refugees in 15 priority countries along the Central Mediterranean route. In all, 277,000 refugees are estimated to be in need of resettlement in these countries. However, the agency has only received some 13,000 offers of resettlement for 2018 and 2019. More information from UNHCR.
I was asked yesterday about the death of two Palestinian teenagers in the occupied West Bank and in Gaza. I can tell you that the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, has expressed his concern at the continuing clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli security forces in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, including the two teenagers who were killed.
All incidents in which the use of force has resulted in death or injury must be promptly and thoroughly investigated. Political and community leaders must refrain from actions and rhetoric that could further escalate the situation and should help reduce tensions.
**Questions and Answers
Khalas. Questions? Yes, sir?
Question: The situation right now in Syria, what's going on? About what happened like, you know, two weeks ago and still bombing in Damascus and Idlib and still going on?
Spokesman: I think we've repeatedly expressed our concern about the continued violence, the lack of humanitarian access, as you know. The Humanitarian [Affairs and Emergency Relief] Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, was in Syria where he met with Syrian Government officials and made our concerns known. Thank you. Mr. Lee?
Spokesman: I guess.
Question: Yes. I have some other questions, but I… I'd assumed you'd… does the Secretary‑General have a… his own comment on… on the comments by President [Donald] Trump regarding Haiti and other countries? And Africa.
Spokesman: Look, we've obviously seen the reports. We've… gentlemen, sorry. We've seen the reports from this private meeting. I don't know what was said or not said. We've seen the President has denied making those comments. I think the answer to the question is in the Secretary‑General's speech yesterday at the launch of his migration report, and I think all of us and all of you would do well to read it or reread it. The Secretary‑General's oft‑stated principled position is that the dignity, equality, and human rights of refugees and migrants has to be respected everywhere. That's his fundamental position.
Question: Was there… has there been any discussion among himself and his senior staff about the comments today?
Spokesman: I think people discuss what's in the news… all over the news routinely in this building.
Question: I saw you going up at… at… at 9:30, I believe, with Tanguy Stehelin and others. Was this a subject of discussion?
Spokesman: I… you know, I don't make elevator reservations. I'm in the elevator with whomever I happen to be in the elevator. Mr. Bays?
Question: Does the Secretary‑General believe that those words, as reported, are racist?
Spokesman: For the Secretary… I think the answer to that question is in… as I said, in his speech. Again, I have no way of knowing what was said, what was unsaid. We've seen the President's own denial. To repeat myself, the Secretary‑General's position, principled position, which he has repeated over and over again, which I think he repeated very clearly yesterday, is that the dignity, the human rights, and the equality of all those who are on the move trying to seek a better life needs to be respected everywhere. Ms. Lederer?
Question: Tackling this issue from another point of view. African leaders, the President of Haiti, have responded in very outraged form. Does the Secretary‑General support their assessments, their views?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General is not a commentator of comments. He has his position on the issue, and I think I've tried to explain it. I think that's Richard Roth in the back. I don't recognise him.
Question: Thank you for that New Year's greeting. How should the average citizen of the world who looks to the UN for guidance or morality think when one UN spokesman in Switzerland says it was racist comments and the spokesman in New York says, “I didn't hear it” and refers to a speech the other day that related topics?
Spokesman: The United Nations is made up of many moving parts. Everybody has their mandate, their areas of responsibility. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has their mandate, they… has their voice, their independent voice, which is a very important one. Again, I think, you ask what the Secretary‑General's position is on attacks on the dignity of those people who are on the move. He's answered that question. Go to the videotape. I think… look at yesterday's speech. Again, we've seen the reports of what was said. We don't know… I have no way of knowing whether it was said or not said, and we've seen the denials of the person who was accused of saying them.
Correspondent: I don't think there were full denials on derogatory obscenity regarding UN member countries, and the Secretary‑General works for them, but he is the man at the top here, the diplomat, and hearing those words of condemnation and derision.
Spokesman: Is that a statement or a question?
Correspondent: Do you want me to come up? I'll answer my own question.
Spokesman: I didn't hear an inflection at the end. Listen, I think we've always called for civility and decorum in public discourse, but again, I think if you're asking me about the Secretary‑General's position on these types of issues, read his speech. He answered your question yesterday. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I guess I'm going to ask about another one of the… one of the UN's moving parts. Frank La Rue of… of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) is accused of… of sexual harassment. It's been reported publicly, and given the importance of the issue… and I know… and I understand that the Secretary‑General intends to speak about it at his town hall, maybe here on the 16th, although UNESCO is part of the family and not directly under him, what does… what does he… reading as I would assume that he has, an assistant number two official in UNESCO is charged with sexual harassment of an employee in 2016 and '17. The woman had an emotional breakdown and the…
Spokesman: I personally have not seen that report, so I can't comment on the specific case, but the general position is obviously very clear that harassment, abuse of power cannot be tolerated, but I can't comment on the case because I literally have not heard of it.
Question: There's a… there's a UNESCO… I guess the equivalent of OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services), their internal oversight service is doing an investigation. When you say, “zero tolerance”, does it mean if these allegations are found to be true, Mr. Frank La Rue should no longer be working in the UN system?
Spokesman: I'm not going to [be] called on a case that I haven't heard. There's an administration of justice and people need to face… go through that process.
Question: And the town hall meeting. I've seen some internal traffic about it, saying that he does intend to address gender equity, and… but my question… I guess my question is there was some… some lack of clarity last time. Is this open or not open?
Spokesman: No. It's for the staff. It's not for the press. And he will speak to you on Tuesday.
Correspondent: Okay. And I wanted to ask you again. Now… now, Amnesty International has spoken out about… It turns out it's 10 independence leaders of the anglophone regions of Cameroon as they've put it that were abducted in Nigeria more than a week ago, and they've said…
Spokesman: I don't have anything new on that.
Question: I guess… because I see pictures of Amina Mohammed with the Government of Nigeria and I'm just wondering has she brought it up to them?
Spokesman: I have nothing new on that at this point. Yes, madam?
Question: Does she have a spokesperson with her that I can ask?
Spokesman: No. You're stuck with me. Yes, ma'am?
Correspondent: The Secretary‑General will be in Colombia this weekend…
Spokesman: Yes, ma'am.
Question: To meet with the president, FARC (People’s Alternative Revolutionary Force) leaders, church leaders. Do you have a schedule for his visit?
Spokesman: The schedule is that he will spend one day in in Bogotá, and then the next day, he will be visiting field projects, but Mathias [Gillmann] in my office has more details.
Question: One more thing?
Spokesman: Yes, one more.
Question: I had asked you about a letter concerning Sudan and Egypt, I don't know, 10 days ago. And now, Sudan has said that they've deployed soldiers to the… to the border of Eritrea, it also involves Egypt. It's about a dam, but it seems to be coming to nearly a military confrontation. Is the UN aware of this? Are they involved in any way? Can you now confirm receipt of the letter?
Spokesman: I'll take a look. Thank you.