The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. Happy Friday. They can’t take that away from us. They can try, but it won’t work.
**Secretary-General in El Salvador
The Secretary-General arrived in San Salvador, El Salvador, to attend the twenty-third Anniversary of the Peace Agreements that put an end to the civil war in the country. The ceremony is happening as we speak.
Prior to this, the Secretary-General met with civil society representatives and with President Salvador Sánchez Cerén of El Salvador. In his meeting with the President, they discussed the inclusive dialogue structure put in place by the President and the work of the National Council on Citizen Security and Coexistence. They also addressed economic and human rights issues, particularly the need for greater women’s empowerment, as well as the Government’s recently launched five-year development plan.
The Secretary-General congratulated the President on the election of El Salvador to the Human Rights Council. They also addressed key issues in the global agenda such as climate change, the post-2015 development agenda and mechanisms of financing for development. This afternoon, the Secretary-General will address the National Assembly of El Salvador and meet with other senior officials. He will be back in New York on Saturday evening.
Just a note on an issue that we have been flagging here for some time now, which is the impact of winter on the civilian population in Syria. The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, Yacoub el Hillo, says that winter has brought some more hardship to Syrians already struggling to find safe shelter and ways to feed, clothe and protect their families from illness and exposure to risk.
In preparation for this cold season, the United Nations and partners launched a $206 million winterization plan back in October, targeting 3.3 million people inside Syria. As part of this plan, UN agencies have, in recent months, distributed winterization assistance to hundreds of thousands of people across Syria. This has included blankets and warm clothing, fuel, winter kits and cash assistance. However, the winter plan remains underfunded by about $70 million.
Yesterday, the first trucks in an inter-agency aid convoy reached the Al Waer district of Homs [City], and delivered food, medicines, nutrition supplements, hygiene kits and other relief items for some 75,000 people. The UN had not been able to deliver aid to those communities since early November of 2014. Further supplies are expected to be delivered in the coming days.
And from Nigeria, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, has wrapped up a week-long visit to that country. She said that children growing up in Nigeria’s north-east are in desperate need of protection from relentless violence. The Special Representative was in Nigeria to assess the conflict’s impact on children. She met with the country’s federal authorities, the authorities of the Adamawa State, the United Nations, the diplomatic community, civil society, as well as displaced people.
Ms. Zerrougui said that, throughout 2014, there has been a dramatic rise in violence, growing recruitment and use of children, sometimes very young, as well as countless abductions and attacks on schools. The Special Representative is also concerned by reports of sexual violence against girls, including forced marriages and rapes. And there is press release available with more information.
Also from Nigeria, the UN refugee agency says it is extremely concerned about the return of hundreds of refugees to Nigeria from Niger on 14 January in a joint operation organized by the Governor of Borno State and the authorities in Niger. Given the volatile security situation in Borno State and the recent attacks by insurgents, UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] is concerned about the nature of these returns and has asked the authorities to stop this operation until there are proper safeguards and a legal framework between Nigeria, Niger and UNHCR.
The agency also says that refugees from Nigeria continue to arrive in Niger and Chad. In all, some 13,000 Nigerian refugees have arrived in western Chad since the attacks on Baga earlier this month. And in 2015, the violence in the north-east of Nigeria has led to an exodus of 19,000 people from that country.
Participants in the Libyan dialogue hosted by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) concluded two days of intensive discussions in Geneva yesterday. They are expected to return to Geneva next week for another round of talks and we hope to provide more details early next week.
Also on Libya, the UN refugee agency warned that an upsurge in fighting since the start of the year across several towns and cities in the east, including Benghazi, have led to more displacement. An estimated 400,000 people remain displaced across the country. And Libya is also home to nearly 37,000 refugees and asylum-seekers whose humanitarian conditions are increasingly precarious.
And a note on Ebola: David Nabarro, the Special Envoy for Ebola Response, noted progress in the fight to counter the spread of the disease in West Africa. Talking to UN News Centre and UN Radio, he noted that, while the number of cases in the region had risen to 150 per day in September, the numbers of cases per day has now declined to about 50. He said that this is the first time that all three of the affected countries have showed signs that the outbreak is reducing in intensity. Dr. Nabarro added that, although the number of new cases is gradually reducing with each passing day and week, we are not at our target of zero infections and have to remain vigilant to avoid any kind of complacency.
Meanwhile, one year after the first Ebola cases started to surface in Guinea, the World Health Organization (WHO) has published a series of 14 papers that take an in-depth look at West Africa’s first epidemic of Ebola virus disease. The papers explore the reasons why the disease evaded detection for several months and the factors, many specific to West Africa that fuelled its subsequent spread. More information on the WHO website.
A couple more notes. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström, today congratulated the Japanese people and Government for their steadfast remembrance of the more than 6,000 people who died 20 years ago in the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake. On the eve of the earthquake’s anniversary, she said that it is important to remember distant events because a short memory is the enemy of disaster management. Ms. Wahlström noted that earthquakes kill more people than any other natural hazard. And looking ahead, seismic risk will feature prominently at the third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction which will take place in Sendai, Japan, in March.
**Deputy Secretary-General — Synagogue
And just to flag that the Deputy Secretary-General will be speaking tomorrow morning at the annual UN Holocaust Remembrance Day Service at Park East Synagogue. He is expected to underline that the work to improve understanding between faith-based communities is more necessary than ever, at a time when perpetrators of horrible violence are invoking religious beliefs, from Syria and Iraq to Nigeria and France. He will also stress the need to face up to the past as the only way to learn from its lessons and apply them in future.
The Deputy Secretary-General will also talk about the importance of encouraging good governance, good education and strong institutions to prevent the demonization of outsiders and stop the corrosive politics of division and polarization.
**Senior Personnel Appointment
And lastly, an appointment to announce: the Secretary-General is appointing of Janos Pasztor of Hungary as Assistant Secretary-General on Climate Change. In this capacity, Mr. Pasztor will serve as the Senior Adviser of the Secretary-General on climate change until the twenty-first UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris in December. Mr. Pasztor’s tenure will focus on supporting efforts towards a universal climate agreement in 2015 and mobilizing global climate action on the ground, including through coherent United Nations System-wide action.
Mr. Pasztor comes from his position as Acting Executive Director, Conservation, and Director of Policy and Science, at World Wildlife Fund International. And he has also worked at the United Nations previously. Olga?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Secretary-General assistant Jens Toyberg-Frandzen yesterday called on Israel to unlock $1 million taxes to Palestinian that were freezed after Palestine decided to join ICC [International Criminal Court]. Is there any development? Has special coordinator Robert Serry raised this question? Any reaction from Israel about that?
Spokesman: No, no update following the call yesterday. Obviously, the release of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority is very important indeed.
Question: All right. I have two questions. One on Bahrain. The other on Syria. In Bahrain the tension is very high in the streets. The leaders of Al-Wefaq remain in jail. Does the United Nations have anything new to say to the authorities to stop the crackdown on peaceful protestors there?
Spokesman: I think, obviously, the right for people to protest peacefully is a critical right to uphold and nothing to add to what we've said earlier in terms of the Secretary-General's position and his support to what the High Commissioner had said. Yes, sir.
Question: On Syria, of course, the winterization is important, but it seems that there is meagre resources available to the aid workers. How does the United Nations view the sanctions, unilateral sanctions, by many countries against Syria? How is it contributing to the welfare of the Syrians? Is there any call to lift such sanctions?
Spokesman: I think, you know, what is the biggest hindrance to the welfare of the Syrian people is obviously the continued fighting. That's why we're pushing hard on the political track which is led by Mr. de Mistura. In the meantime, the UN system is mobilized to provide whatever assistance it can, given the funding that it has, and as you said, and as I said earlier, our winterization programme is about $70 million short-changed and we need that money to provide essential services.
Question: Do you believe lifting sanctions will alleviate…?
Spokesman: I've heard your question and I think I've answered it using my words. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure, thanks a lot. I want to ask about OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] and DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo]. On the OCHA recruitment process to find the new person, I've been informed that the UK has submitted two additional names to make a total of three, that Italy, Germany and UAE have also put forward names and I'm sure others. So, I wanted to know, because this gives rise to a question if… if… Is it a wide open process? Have other countries submitted more than one? Is it still a matter of looking, giving in the first instance a look to the UK of those three names, and as a request — the final part of this question — by a number of highly respected humanitarian NGOs [non-governmental organizations] that the inter-agency standing committee, i.e. members, these NGOs that are outside of the UN system, be given some role in the review process? And I wanted to know what’s the response of the Secretary to that request.
Spokesman: Obviously, the recruitment process has been to get the best possible person. Not for the first time, you seem to have more information than I do. I have to say, we will not go into the details of the recruitment process. As we said earlier, a call went out for names, for candidates. A recruitment process is ongoing but the Secretary-General is solely responsible and it is being done under his authority.
Question: But, I understand that in previous… even… even when there's no short list given out, that there's, you know, a review panel, and I guess the request… since it's been made semi-publicly in a petition, is it… especially for a job that involves providing aid in conjunction with NGOs all over the world…?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary-General and his senior staff are well aware of what the job implies. And one could argue that every senior job in the UN involves working with outside partners. The recruitment is being handled by the Secretary-General and his staff. Masood and then Matthew and then Erol.
Question: On this situation in Syria, which is… there is… I mean… calls by all the United Nations and OCHA and everybody else that more money is needed, the international community has failed the Syrian people. Has there been an assessment or is there going to be a fresh assessment as to how much more money is needed?
Spokesman: I think, if I'm not mistaken, we launched a fresh appeal not that long ago, so the assessment is ongoing. There's an appeal that went out for 2015, and given the level, the numbers of man-made crises that we're facing — Central African Republic, South Sudan, Libya, Iraq, Syria, just to name a few — the amount of money that we're asking for, for ourselves and our humanitarian partners, is record-breaking. So the assessments have been made.
Correspondent: So, basically, the United Nations complaining of the lack of response from the international…
Spokesman: I think, you know, we've put out a call. Some of these appeals are better funded than others. Now, what I've just flagged to you today is that we're missing $70 million — which is a lot of money, but in the grand scale of things is not that much money — to further fund our winterization programme. Carole and then we'll go to Matthew. Sorry.
Question: Do you have an update, Stéphane, on the [Democratic Republic of the Congo]? You talked about shaping operations against the FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda]. It seems to be dragging on. What's…?
Spokesman: No, obviously, the planning continues, but no hard update to give you at this point. We'll go to Matthew and then Edie, if you don't mind.
Question: Stéphane, there are reports that bodies of the terrorists in the Paris attacks are in limbo and nobody wants to take them. Does the UN have a position on…?
Spokesman: No, I have not seen those reports and I do not have a position had I seen the reports. Edie and then Erol. Sorry.
Question: As a follow up to Carole's question, can you check on whether the president of Congo, Mr. Kabila, has signed this joint declaration?
Spokesman: He has not.
Correspondent: He has not.
Spokesman: As far as — excuse me?
Spokesman: I only speak for one senior official at a time. [Laughter] As far as I know, he has not. Erol?
Question: If somebody addressed this question, I do apologize, because I came late, but I want to ask you whether the Secretary-General thinks that, beside the efforts from the High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the Saudi blogger, something to be done in order for him to be saved from humiliation and the punishment which is…?
Spokesman: Well, we understand from our colleagues and the High Commissioner for Human Rights that the punishment has been suspended, so if that is the case, we would welcome that.
Question: May I follow up?
Spokesman: You may follow up.
Question: Certainly, I assume that you are receiving many complaints from various part of the world regarding freedom of expression, victims and freedom of the press, et cetera. So, I wonder how that… how you catalogue those complaints and how you react on them when somebody complains to you or Secretary-General or the cabinet of the Secretary-General, et cetera.
Spokesman: Well, if letters are received, they are addressed and obviously a lot of those issues are also referred to the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Mr. Lee.
Question: Sure. Actually two follow-ups and some other stuff, but on DRC, what I wanted to ask, and it may be related to this non-signing, is Lambert Mende… the spokesman for the Congolese Government has said today that the presidential elections may not be held in 2016 and may, in fact, be pushed back to 2017. And since Martin Kobler has said he stands fully with the Government in its attack on yet another group, the FRPI [Forces de résistance patriotique en Ituri]… What is the UN's position on this long-awaited presidential election potentially being delayed for a year and what would you say to those who say there may be some linkage of the UN saying nothing about the continued position in power of Mr. Kabila in order to get such a sign off?
Spokesman: You know, I will let others make whatever analysis and linkage they want to make. I have not seen the quotes that you are referring to. I'm happy to look into it.
Question: If so, does the UN believe the elections should…?
Spokesman: I'm not going to go into an “if so”. Did you have another question?
Question: I do actually, yeah. Just on the blogger, I wanted to ask the reason for the suspension is medical grounds. They didn't put it off. Basically, it's on for next Friday, if he can be put back into shape to be flogged…
Spokesman: We understand it's been suspended. As I said, if that is confirmed, we would welcome it. I think the… you were not here yesterday, but we said we stood by very clearly what the High Commissioner for Human Rights said, which was very critical of what the sentence is, which is cruel and unusual punishment. Nizar than Carole.
Spokesman: Nizar, would you yield to Carole? Yes, you will. Go ahead.
Question: I was just wondering, what is the level of concern over the fact that Kabila has not signed off on…
Spokesman: You know, we're obviously making preparations for this action. I think it's… I don't want to get bogged down in what is legally needed, but obviously, for such a major operation, it's important that the Government be fully on board and the discussion, you know, the contacts are ongoing. Nizar.
Question: The Syrian families freeing the conflict zone in Guta, eastern Guta in Damascus, speak about moderate rebels denying them access to food, to other things, and selling them food at the very astronomical price. Is United Nations in contact with these families? Are they establishing really what's happening there? And also, how does the United Nations view training more moderate fighters in Saudi Arabia and Jordan and in Turkey with the help of United States?
Spokesman: I will try to take a look at the humanitarian case you present. Obviously, we're against the selling of humanitarian food which is distributed free of charge. People need to have access to food and water and shelter and whatever they need. As far as the second part, your second question, we continue for a political track and ask those countries that have an influence to bring peace rather than more weapons into the conflict.
Question: Do you have any reaction to the intentions or the plans to send 400 trainers…?
Spokesman: I think I know where you're going with this and I think my response to your second question answers your third question, as well.
Correspondent: One item…
Spokesman: No, no, Nizar, let's… I promise to come back to you. Please. No, no. Go ahead.
Question: Just a quick confirmation: you said the Secretary-General is speaking this Sunday at Park East Synagogue?
Spokesman: No, I said the Deputy Secretary-General.
Correspondent: Deputy Secretary-General.
Spokesman: He's speaking this Sunday. You should contact Park East to give you the exact time. No, sorry, tomorrow, Saturday.
Correspondent: Tomorrow. Okay.
Spokesman: Tomorrow, Saturday.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Deputy Secretary-General, Park East. Yes, sir, and then we'll go to Erol.
Question: On this International Criminal Court in Hague starting the investigation into this [inaudible] war in the Gaza, now there is, after the Palestinians signed on to the… Now, if one party or another is convicted… in fact, found liable for anything, how does this apply? Does the United Nations know how will it apply? Will it be able to execute the decisions of the Criminal Court?
Spokesman: I think, Masood, with all due respect, you are jumping miles and years ahead and asking me to speculate on something that I will not speculate on. As you know, the ICC is independent of the Secretary-General. We've taken note of the announcement today. I would refer you back to what the Secretary-General said in reference to the ICC when he talked to you on Thursday. You can look in that transcript. But, I think the key message from the Secretary-General is his alarm and frustration as to where the peace process is. I think the Assistant Secretary-General laid it out very clearly in his briefing to the Security Council yesterday when he said neither parties had made the courageous steps that are needed to find a political solution.
Question: Now, unrelated, Pakistan today banned this Haqqani group… terrorist group, and the United States has welcomed it. Is there any reaction from the United Nations?
Spokesman: I have not seen those reports. Erol.
Question: Thanks. Stéphane, the Secretary-General so many times on the record said there is a need to address the root causes of the terrorism and in the context of post-Paris developments and events, and especially in the light of the threats that are now given to the media and that are now known in Europe and elsewhere. Does the Secretary-General think that he should address these in particular with these developments?
Spokesman: I'm not sure I follow you on your question, but the Secretary-General's position that terrorism also needs to be addressed in a longer term and addressed in its root causes stands, whether that be in Paris, in north-east Nigeria or anywhere else in the world.
Question: What does it mean in particular?
Spokesman: What does it mean? It means to address why terrorist organizations are able to recruit young people, very young people, men, boys, girls, women, and need to address those causes. Nizar?
Question: In this context, what is the Alliance of Civilization? We haven't heard anything since these incidents in Paris. There was no statement from them as if they don't exist.
Spokesman: I think they do exist. We'll see if they put out anything that may interest you. Mr. Lee.
Question: Thanks a lot. I wanted to ask about Cyprus, flying rules, and the staff union where the accessibility of the Secretary-General. On Cyprus, I am sure you will have seen this report. The president of Cyprus has been very critical of the Secretary-General's most recent report on Cyprus and said, basically, he’s trying to force Cyprus to return to the table despite violations of its sovereignty by the Turkish Cypriot side, so it's pretty heated rhetoric. And this comes after Mr. Eide's statement. So, I wonder what do you make of that, and is that, is it accurate what he's saying? And does this… what's the response of the Secretariat to these statements coming after Mr. Eide's…?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary-General fully backs the work of his Special Envoy, Mr. Eide, and stands by his report. As in many cases and in general terms, often reports of the Secretary-General elicit reactions from one side or another. But, there's no reason for us to comment on the reactions to the Secretary-General's report.
Question: And I saw, I guess it was, maybe it was Wednesday, that this standards of accommodation for air travel report by the Secretary-General was published. And it's very detailed about what… I don't want to say lower-level staff, but other… other UN staff and officials, when they can take first class, when they can take business class, when there's a medical exception. So, it made me think back to this private jet flight. What I wanted to know is, one, do these rules that the Secretary-General promulgated, do they apply to himself? And, two, are there officials other than the Secretary-General who accept gifted travel from States or others? I'm thinking of special envoys. And if so, where is that disclosed, and how does it comply with…?
Spokesman: It's a good question. I'm happy to look into it. Obviously as… on the Secretary-General's air travel, I think a lot of that is laid out in the report.
Correspondent: In this one it doesn't mention it.
Question: Hi. Earlier, you said that there was the Special Representative for disaster risk said… talked about the twentieth anniversary of the Hanshin Awaji earthquake. Is the UN doing anything or releasing anything?
Spokesman: We're release the statement from his special adviser. And think there's a lot… I know there is a lot of planning going ahead for the Sendai conference in March. Nizar and then maybe we'll call it a Friday afternoon.
Question: On this Middle East Quartet, when will it be revived? When will it [inaudible] if at all? And if not, if not, will the Secretary-General consider calling it, I mean, disbanding it?
Spokesman: Masood, with all due respect, you may have missed this yesterday, but they did announce that the Quartet would be meeting in Brussels on [26 January].
Correspondent: I'm… I'm sorry about that, but the thing is that it has not functioned so far.
Spokesman: Obviously, the Quartet is one tool of the international community, but I think it goes back to the parties needing to take the courageous steps they need to take. Erol. Zach, did you have a question? Go ahead.
Correspondent: I'll yield my time.
Spokesman: You do yield. Forcibly. Go ahead.
Question: Two things. On Ebola, did the Secretary-General have a comment about the WHO report on Ebola? And secondly, on Syria, do you have a timetable or a schedule for Mr. de Mistura's conferences, meetings, in Moscow?
Spokesman: No, no particular comment on the WHO reports, which is part of its internal process. Beyond what Mr. de Mistura himself announced, which said he would be sending his deputy back to Damascus in the coming days, I'll try to get you some more details. Erol?
[The Spokesman later added that he Special Envoy intended to visit Syria in the coming weeks, with his Deputy and the team, to continue discussions with the Government of Syria on implementing the freeze in Aleppo.]
Question: Stéphane, just to put on the record, you are aware that, on 11 July, there is… this year, there is going to be twentieth anniversary of Srebrenica. I know it's too early, but just to put it as a question.
Spokesman: Noted. Thank you.
Question: Are you going to prepare anything?
Spokesman: I will share with you in due time what the plans are. Nizar.
Question: One biggest disasters that happened in recent years was the Fukushima disasters of the nuclear reactors. Do you have any recent reports telling how safe the area is after…?
Spokesman: I do not. You may want to talk…
Question: Are you expecting any…?
Spokesman: I'm not aware of any. You may want to talk to the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] or the Japanese authorities.
Question: Sure. Thanks. At the Secretary-General’s town hall meeting… global town hall meeting with staff, he'd said that he… he's open to talking. “I'm always ready. Our senior advisers are fully ready. We are always accessible. I think I am one of the most accessible Secretary-Generals, maybe. So, you can count on me. I am ready to talk to you.” So, he was given a letter yesterday by the claim, said elected president of the staff union Steven Kisenbera to actually have a dialogue about why there's been no staff union for the last year. And it gives rise to the question, not just for that one, I'm sure you can talk to the other side but… if he said he's the most accessible ever and he's ready to talk, is that the case? Or what's happened with the letter?
Spokesman: Let's see what… the letter was sent yesterday. Let's see what the response is. But, I do know wherever the Secretary-General travels, he takes time to meet with staff and staff representatives around the world.
Question: But does he do collective bargaining about conditions at work?
Spokesman: I think there is a system and a protocol in place, staff management committees to deal with those issues that represent the Secretary-General.
Question: And that continues without a recognized staff union?
Spokesman: The situation of the staff union here in New York is unchanged since we last talked about it. Have a wonderful weekend.