The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Welcome, good afternoon. I will start off with a trip announcement.
The Secretary-General will travel to India later this week to visit Gujarat and New Delhi. This will be his fourth trip to the country as the UN Secretary-General. He will travel to Ahmedabad, capital of Gujarat, on Saturday, 10 January, and deliver a keynote speech at the Inaugural Session of the seventh Vibrant Gujarat Summit the following day. Addressing world leaders, policymakers and representatives from the business community and academia, the Secretary-General will stress the need to promote inclusive and sustainable development in India and globally.
While in Gujarat, the Secretary-General is also expected to visit Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram. And he will also visit a solar power plant to see for himself national efforts in India to promote sustainable development. In Gujarat and Delhi, the Secretary-General is scheduled to meet with key Indian leaders, including President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj. The Secretary-General will also meet Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi and UN Goodwill Ambassadors in India.
On 12 January, the Secretary-General is expected to deliver the thirteenth Sapru House Lecture, organized by the Indian Council of World Affairs. He will conclude his visit to India on 13 January, following his meetings with UN staff and heads of UN agencies working in India.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
From the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN [Organization Stabilization] Mission in the [Democratic Republic of the Congo] (MONUSCO) announced yesterday that the Congolese Army, with its support, managed to take control of the main bases of the Front National de Libération, FNL, an armed group from Burundi operating in the Uvira region, in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Head of the Mission, Martin Kobler, said that this joint action was a strong signal for all armed groups, including the FDLR [Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda], to choose peace and surrender. The UN Mission’s Force Commander ad interim, Major General Jean Baillaud, said that the successful operation was a clear demonstration of the joint capacity of the Congolese Army and MONUSCO forces and of their shared determination to neutralize all armed groups in the country.
From Darfur, our colleagues at the UN-AU [Hybrid Operation] in Darfur, otherwise known as UNAMID, report that its peacekeepers came under attack today on a patrol by unidentified armed men in the Burumburum area, about 11 kilometres north-east of Khor Abeche, in South Darfur. Two attackers were killed in the firefight. There was no injury to any of the peacekeepers or damage to Mission property. The Mission reports that this is the second attack on UNAMID in this area in as many months.
The Mission's Acting Joint Special Representative, Abiodun Oluremi Bashua, commended the peacekeepers for their robust response to the attackers and called on the Government of Sudan to speedily investigate the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice. Also today, another UNAMID patrol was attacked at a water point by a group of unidentified assailants about 5 kilometres south-west of the Mission team site in Habilla in West Darfur. The peacekeepers did not sustain any injuries but the attackers seized a water tanker and a vehicle.
From Lebanon, Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos will visit that country from tomorrow through Friday. She is expected to meet with senior Lebanese officials, local authorities, humanitarian partners and people affected by the Syria crisis. The visit will focus on how the international community can support the Government of Lebanon, whose social services have been affected by the Syria crisis, in providing assistance to vulnerable Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians.
The recently launched Lebanon Crisis Response Plan identifies approximately 2.2 million highly vulnerable individuals with acute needs, primarily Syrian refugees, in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. Also, 2.9 million people in the most vulnerable communities and locations were also identified to need support through investment in services, economies and institutions.
Our colleagues at UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] say that the continuing conflict in Syria and the recent closure of some schools in Raqqa and Deir-ez-Zour Governorates and parts of rural Aleppo is believed to have disrupted education for 670,000 children. Between January and December alone, there were at least 68 attacks on schools across Syria, according to data available to UNICEF. These attacks reportedly killed and wounded hundreds of children. The real numbers are expected to be higher, and there are indications that some attacks against schools were deliberate.
UNICEF has also repeatedly called upon all parties to the conflict to uphold their responsibility to protect children, schools and other civilian infrastructure from the conflict. It repeats that call as a new year begins with children in Syria still facing terrible threats to their safety, wellbeing and, of course, education.
On Ebola, just flagging a note that was issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) late yesterday, in which it says that no suspected cases of Ebola have been found in Iraq, contrary to a rumour reported by several media outlets. In a joint statement with Iraq’s Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization said it had conducted a full investigation and that all sources contacted had denied the existence of any suspected Ebola cases in Iraq.
Lastly, as you know, Angela Kane, the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, briefed the Security Council this morning on the disarmament of Syria’s chemical weapons programme. That’s it. Mr. Lee?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thanks a lot. You had mentioned in the last couple days, obviously, the FDLR and the disarmament, the deadline that passed. I wanted to ask you something, because I've seen that MONUSCO has said that presently 26 per cent of some estimated 1,300 FDLR combatants have disarmed. But, I've seen the Group of Experts' report, and the Group of Experts' report says, of those disarming, these include people over… elderly people, people with broken weapons or no weapons, a blind man. And so, I wanted to know, is MONUSCO counting in this 26 per cent disarmament figure the people that the U.N.'s own Group of Experts casts serious doubt on whether they, in fact, were or can be combatants?
Spokesman: You know, I have no reason to doubt what MONUSCO is saying, and I think, as you will recall, when there were surrenders a few months ago, they came in with a number of… there were civilians that came in also included in that group. So, I will go with the figure that MONUSCO gave. We can try to get more details as to exactly who are they counting, but I have no reason to doubt what MONUSCO is saying.
Question: I guess what I'm wondering is whether the figures currently… I mean, this year being tweeted out and used by MONUSCO, do they take into account this Group of Experts' report?
Spokesman: I think they take into account the information MONUSCO has. MONUSCO is deeply involved in this issue and they're using the information they have. Yes, sir. And then Olga.
Question: Stéphane, in Germany, thousands of people are marching against immigrants, and it's a dangerous moment, it seems. And the Secretary‑General said at the end of year press conference, he said one of his priorities for this year is to fight against prejudice in Europe. What he plans to do against this trend?
Spokesman: Well, I think, you know, the Secretary‑General has spoken out repeatedly against what we've seen as a rise of extremism in different parts of the world, not in just Europe, and I think his message is one of tolerance and one of acceptance. We are seeing throughout the world an unprecedented crisis in terms of refugees that are moving very often under perilous conditions throughout the world seeking safety, and I think it's a responsibility of everyone to ensure that those refugees are welcomed and treated fairly. Olga?
Question: Stéphane, do you have any updates on the suicide bomb attack in Istanbul that just happened this morning?
Spokesman: I do not. I do not. If I get something, I will share it with you. Matthew?
Question: Sure. I mean, there were different reports after the Security Council meeting on the two UN system officials that were ordered to leave Sudan, so I wanted to know, just sort of for the record, what's their current status and what's the Secretariat's understanding? Are they being replaced or are there negotiations to have them remain: Yvonne Helle, who I asked about 24 December, and Mr. Ali al-Zaatari?
Spokesman: I think these discussions are still going on. I know Mr. Zaatari is still in-country. This was an issue which was raised directly between the Sudanese Foreign Minister and the Deputy Secretary‑General in the last days of 2014, and it continues to be an area of concern for us, and discussions are ongoing.
Question: And I wanted to ask you this. In April, it was definitely reported and UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] confirmed to me their head of country in Sudan left the country and was essentially PNG [persona non grata]. I just wonder, what would you say to those who say… is it now that there's three PNGs, the UN pushes back? Did the UN push back in the case of Pam DeLargy or… I was told they were told not to push back?
Spokesman: I don't have any details as to that case. I will try to get some. But obviously, the PNG-ing of anyone for… UN official for political reasons is of great concern to us. Oleg.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. With the departure of Sigrid Kaag, is there any UN office presence in Damascus right now? Is there anybody from the mission over there or the job is being done only by OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons), I mean, the chemical weapons?
Spokesman: Well, Angela Kane in her capacity as head of the Office of Disarmament Affairs has inherited the kind of successor file to the Joint Mission that Ms. Kaag headed; the Mission is no longer there. There are obviously some issues that still need to be resolved, residual issues, which Angela Kane is taking the lead on. As to whether or not there is any staff in Damascus dealing specifically with that issue, I can try to find out, but I believe they there are none. Matthew, go ahead. Then you can all have a wonderful day. I'm sorry. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Correspondent: I want to ask about Mr. Ban Ki‑moon's New Year's greeting to the South Korean President.
Spokesman: Mr. Ban Ki‑moon's what?
Question: Mr. Ban Ki-moon’s New Year's greeting to the South Korean President on 2 January. It is very interesting for a Secretary‑General to talk to the president of a country where he come from at first and deliver the readout at first, among 193 countries. It is a very kind of unusual for an Asian to talk to… pick up his own country at first and deliver this kind of readout at first. In terms of Asian culture, I would say Asian ethics, what is his intention to pick up South Korean President at first to talk to?
Spokesman: You know, your question has lot of drawers in it and I'm not sure I'm going to open every one of them. There is nothing unusual for the Secretary‑General of the United Nations to speak to a Head of State. Every Secretary‑General of the United Nations has come from a Member State, has a home country, and I'm sure every… and I will risk speaking without having the full facts, but I'm sure that every Secretary‑General of the United Nations has one time or another spoken to the Head of State or Head of Government of his own country. So, I don't see anything unusual by it. And I'm not going to comment on what you say may or may not be Asian culture, because I frankly am not an expert in that domain.
Question: Okay. According to a readout, he didn't pick up the significance of press freedom during the conversation with the South Korean President. But, there is a Japanese correspondent in Seoul who was indicted by defamation law and he has been banned from leaving South Korea for Japan, a long time. But, he repeatedly emphasizes the significance of freedom press, freedom expression. Why didn't he, you know, pick up this issue during the conversation with…?
Spokesman: I think the readout is very clear. And as for the case you mention, I think you and I have already spoken about it here, and I really have nothing to add to what I've already said. Mr. Lee?
Question: Thanks a lot. Couple of breaking press freedom cases. One is in Turkey, where this Dutch journalist Frederike Geerdink has been arrested. She's covered the Kurdish issues and she's essentially been arrested, at least somebody there says, based entirely on tweets. In any case, she's been charged with terrorism for reporting on the Kurdish issue in Turkey. Is this something the Secretariat is aware of? What do they think of it?
Spokesman: It's not a case I've personally seen, but, obviously, the Secretary‑General has spoken out and will continue to speak out on the need for journalists to be able to do their work freely.
Question: If anything does come out… because, in Kuwait, this guy, Saqr al-Hashash, has been jailed for, you know, tweeting insults about the emir. It's up to you how you want do it, but does this seem reasonable to you? I understand every country has its own legal system, but can you imagine a tweet that should lead to a jail term?
Spokesman: As I said… I'm not familiar with this particular case. But, I think the Secretary‑General's stand on press freedom is one he's spoken out directly on a number of times and one that I've spoken out here. You do have a wonderful day. And I will see you tomorrow.