The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, happy Friday.
I will start off with a couple of statements, the first one being on Colombia and the Colombian peace process.
As the parties prepare to resume the peace talks in Havana next week, the Secretary-General is encouraged that the year has begun with optimism in Colombia about the prospects for reaching a peace agreement in 2015.
The Secretary-General welcomes the importance attached by both parties to de-escalating the military confrontation. He is pleased to learn that the unilateral ceasefire initiated by the FARC-EP (Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia) on 20 December 2014 has held and expresses the hope that this important gesture can be maintained. He commends the decision by President Juan Manuel Santos to begin discussions that could lead to a bilateral ceasefire. Both parties are encouraged to persist in their talks on the possible implementation of humanitarian measures to diminish the intensity of the conflict.
The Secretary-General reiterates the full support of the United Nations to the peace process.
The statement on the situation in Northern Sinai:
The Secretary-General condemns the terrorist attacks in North Sinai on 29 January, which killed dozens of people, including civilians, and injured scores of others.
He conveys his condolences to the families of the victims and expresses his solidarity with the people of Egypt.
The Secretary-General is in Addis Ababa, as you know, where he is attending the African Union Summit.
This morning, he addressed the opening of the 24th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU). He thanked African Governments for their support and solidarity in the fight against Ebola. He underlined the partnership between the African Union and the United Nations in meeting this challenge, as well as many peace and security threats on the continent, including Boko Haram.
The Secretary-General noted the number of forthcoming elections in Africa and said that undemocratic constitutional changes or loopholes should never be used to cling to power. He added that modern leaders around the world cannot afford to ignore the wishes and aspirations of the people they represent.
The Secretary-General attended a round table on the Ebola outbreak. He also had a series of bilateral meetings this morning with leaders attending the AU Summit. Those readouts and his remarks are available in my office and online.
Meanwhile, back here, Kyung-wha Kang, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, briefed the Security Council today in its discussion on the protection of civilians.
Ms. Kang said that the need for protection has increased dramatically in recent years, mainly as a result of armed conflict. At the start of 2014, humanitarian organizations appealed for aid to help 52 million people in urgent need of assistance and protection. By the end of the year, the number had gone up by almost 50 per cent, to 76 million people. The overwhelming majority of these people are civilians affected by conflict. And the majority of those civilians are women and girls. Her remarks are available in my office.
And another Assistant Secretary-General, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović, will visit South Sudan from 1 to 6 February to assess the human rights situation in the country.
During his visit, Mr. Šimonović will seek updates on progress in investigations of human rights violations committed since the resumption of fighting in December 2013. He will also discuss ways to prevent future violations.
Mr. Šimonović is scheduled to meet with a number of Government officials as well as civil society representatives in Juba. He is also scheduled to visit Bentiu, Malakal and Rumbek.
Also on South Sudan, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) warned today that more Sudanese refugees are arriving in South Sudan, due to fighting in the war-torn Nuba Mountains, in Sudan.
Arrival rates at Yida border town exceed 500 people per week, which represents an increase of more than 100 per cent compared to the same period in 2013. Nearly 70 per cent of new arrivals are children, and an estimated 10 per cent suffer from malnutrition and measles.
UNHCR says there is an urgent need to improve current infrastructure as well as education and shelter. It is working with the Government of South Sudan to identify a site to set up a new camp in Unity State in preparation for new arrivals.
The United Nations in Ukraine today says it is alarmed by the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Debaltseve, Horlivka, and other densely populated areas in eastern Ukraine, where heavy fighting has intensified in recent days.
This makes it increasingly difficult to deliver essential life-saving assistance to the affected population and, of course, for civilians to find safety.
Neal Walker, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine, is calling for an immediate humanitarian truce to allow civilians to leave if they want to, for aid workers to assist affected communities, and to allow for the safe evacuation of the injured and the peaceful civilian population.
He said that unfortunately, we continue to receive credible reports indicating that military positions are dangerously close to densely populated areas and places such as hospitals, schools, orphanages and homes for the elderly.
Mr. Walker added that indiscriminate shelling of civilians violates international humanitarian law and must stop immediately.
From Greece, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, commended Greece today for reforming its asylum process during tough economic and political times, but noted that more needed to be done.
Among the remaining problems, it stressed the difficulties in accessing the asylum procedure and a continuing backlog of unresolved cases under the old procedure.
Over the past, Greece has been carrying a big burden and saw a dramatic increase in refugee and migrant arrivals by sea. More than 43,000 people arrived there across the Mediterranean — 60 per cent of whom were from Syria, with also a substantial number of people from Afghanistan, Somalia and Eritrea. And more is on the Agency’s website.
In response to a question on Nepal: At the Secretariat’s initiative, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jens Toyberg-Frandzen briefed the Security Council on the situation in Nepal during its closed-door consultations yesterday under other matters.
Mr. Toyberg-Frandzen expressed the UN’s increasing concern about the diminishing momentum for inclusive negotiation on the new constitution to be adopted by consensus.
He also emphasized the importance of a new constitution as the culmination of the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which should enjoy wide support of the people. He reiterated the Secretary-General's call for Nepali leaders to continue dialogue in a spirit of flexibility and urgency.
**Social Media Day
Just a reminder that today is the very first Social Media Day at the UN. The Department of Public Information (DPI) has lined up events featuring social media professionals, digital diplomacy practitioners and academics. The events will take place until 5 p.m. in Conference Room 3. And they are all visible live on the WebTV platform or on demand afterwards.
Also I know you asked me repeatedly about Jamal Benomar’s activities, so I’m going to pre-empt the questions and say that he is continuing his meetings today with the signatories of the Peace, National Partnership Agreement in Yemen. The discussions, according to Mr. Benomar, have been constructive.
And as I promised, we are trying to get him to speak to you, and there is a possibility that he may be able to brief you by video conference on Monday afternoon here in this room. So we are working on it.
Speaking of working on it, two more things:
The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is organizing its 2015 annual Youth Forum on 2-3 February in Conference Room 4, right here. The event will explore the role of young people in the transition from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the sustainable development goals.
The event will feature opening remarks by the Secretary-General, as well as the ECOSOC President, Martin Sajdik; keynote addresses by Gabriela Rivadeneira, President of the National Assembly of Ecuador; and Thandiwe Chama, International Children’s Peace Prize Winner 2007 and co-founder of KidsRights Youngsters.
Ahmad Alhendawi, the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth, will then set the stage for the two-day event, which will also be broadcast live via UN Web TV.
And lastly, the Honour Roll today: three more countries — excuse me, four more countries have paid in full, and they are Dominica, Estonia, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. And we thank them.
One more thing, at 11:15 a.m., Monday, briefing by President of the National Assembly of Ecuador, whom I just mentioned, following her participation in the ECOSOC events.
**Questions and Answers
Linda? The microphone, thank you. Erol is being a gentleman and offering you…
Question: Traditionally, the SG goes down to Washington in the early part of the year, and we know that there is a new Congress. Do you expect that he'll be travelling there anytime soon?
Spokesman: I don't have anything to announce at this time, but as soon as I do, I will share it with you.
Question: Steph, you didn't pre-empt us on the DRC, so allow me to ask a few questions. It appears the UN was caught off guard by the FARDC’s (Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo) announcement yesterday. Is that in fact the case? The Force Commander is quoted as saying this not a joint FARDC-MINUSCA (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) operation. Can you provide us with some insight into what has changed? And the third one, I don’t know if this would be a moot point as a result of the previous question, but has President [Joseph] Kabila signed the joint directive?
Spokesman: Couple of questions to unpack here: I think the Force Commander is right. It's not a… it is not a joint… it is not a joint operation. It is one that is being led by the FARDC, with support from MONUSCO. We will participate and provide support operationally, logistically, and strategically, and MONUSCO and the FARDC together will conduct regular joint evaluations of the operations. Obviously…
Question: How does that…
Spokesman: [Laughter] The pause was not meant for you to ask another question but just to let me gather my thoughts. We obviously welcome the start of the operations that were announced yesterday against the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda). It's an encouraging development that's in line with what we have been saying here and by the decisions of the DRC Government, the Security Council, and regional actors to take the decisive military actions against the FDLR, which, as you know, should have been — should have disarmed voluntarily on 2 January.
Question: So what's basically changed? I mean, the impression given by UN officials was that this was going to be a joint operation. We were told the signature was imminent. And how does this differ from the operation that was carried out with the — against the M23?
Spokesman: Well, you know, I think situations, political security situations, tend to evolve. That's their very nature. I think the key thing to remember that it is the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo that has the primary responsibility for peace and for security in its own country and to protect its own citizens. It's in the lead. It's their country, right? So they can decide to launch the operations against rebel groups that are threatening the peace and security of — and endangering civilians. I think what matters for us is that these operations have been launched, that we will be working with the Army of the DRC in support, and in the support that I've outlined.
Question: Were you kept in the dark?
Spokesman: What? No, I think discussions were going on and I would not characterize it as having taken us by surprise. And I think the important thing is that these operations have begun and, as I said, with the support of the UN. Mr. Lee?
Question: Follow‑up on that: Since it's UN Social Media Day, MONUSCO 46 minutes ago said that — I'll say it in French: Les operations militaires contre les #FDLR, lancées hier jeudi, seront dirigées et planifiées conjointement par la #MONUSCO et les FARDC. So unless I'm misunderstanding this, they're claiming that it's a joint operation, “conjointement”, on their Twitter feed. I wanted to know, why would they be doing that, given what you've just said?
Spokesman: I think without going into a deep analysis of French and English, which you obviously are able to do and I couldn't try to keep up with you, I think it is a different characterization maybe, a different use of words, but I think the point is that it's an FARDC‑led operation with the support of the UN.
Question: Okay. Well, I'll continue to look at this “conjointement” word. I want to ask another social media question actually, about Ethiopia, given the Secretary‑General is there for the African Union Summit. There's been a lot of — yesterday, a number of countries actually commented on the moving to trial against the so-called “Free Zone 9” bloggers, who are opt… peaceful opposition commentators using social media, and they now face charges for terrorism in Ethiopia. So I wonder: Is it something the Secretary-General is aware of, given that he's there? I didn't see anything in his speech. What does he think about it?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General has often spoken out for the need for freedom of the press and for freedom of access to the internet and on social media.
Question: But is it important to do it while he's there? I guess, he’s right there…
Spokesman: I think he's — if you look, I think he has spoken out for the liberty, of free speech in Africa in the past, and I think his… the speech that he delivered today was full of a lot of interesting material. Nizar, and then we'll go down that arc.
Question: Stéphane, Abou Ali Harby is a senior Da’esh official who was in charge of passing death sentences to thousands of victims in Syria and in many parts of Syria. He defected to Turkey and to the Saudi Embassy in Ankara. What's expected from Saudis to do with regard to this terrorist? He is a senior one who was in charge of passing sentences and he's responsible for the killing of thousands of innocent people.
Spokesman: Not that I would ever disagree with what you tell me, and I don't. I just don't have the facts about the case and this person. As a general — as a point of general policy, it is important that anyone who has been known to commit atrocities and crimes be held accountable, but I don't know enough about the case. And I'm happy to look into it.
Question: Can Interpol, for example, ask the Saudis to indict…
Spokesman: That's a question for Interpol, which is not under the authority of the Secretary‑General. It is not a part of the UN system.
Question: The United Nations has…
Spokesman: You can keep asking me about — I don't know enough about the case, but I think I've stated our policy. I'll come back to you before the end. Yes, sir?
Question: Steph, and the social media, another question, back to Balkans actually, to put it on the record that in the smaller entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, there is a law in preparation that will forbid and punish people who are using social media in — especially Facebook — to call people for the peaceful assembly and protests. What does the Secretary‑General have to say to that particular case?
Spokesman: Again, I'm not aware of this particular case or this draft law, but think the Secretary‑General's stance on freedom of expression is clear and unwavering.
Question: Can I ask another question or…
Spokesman: I'll come back to you. Then I'll go to you, Carol.
Question: Thank you. Stéphane, what's the latest on the investigations on the recent escalation between Hizbullah and Israel? And should we expect a public report about these investigations?
Spokesman: The investigation is ongoing. Our colleagues at UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) have talked to the IDF (Israel Defense Forces). They've gone to — they've looked at different sites across the Blue Line. It's ongoing. Once the investigation of the — is finished, it will be shared with the parties, and it will be included in the Secretary‑General's next report to the Security Council.
Question: And another question on Libya, please. The SG had a phone call, conversation over the phone with Amir of Qatar a couple of days ago. I think they discussed Libya. What did they discuss exactly, and did the SG ask Qatar to do any certain role in the peace talks now?
Spokesman: I'm not aware of the phone call, but I will check and get back to you. Carol?
Question: Stéphane, I had a question about the UN NGO (non-governmental organizations) Committee. The Americans are raising concerns and certain number of NGOs about a proposal from the Chinese to restrict how the UN reports on what's going on in the Committee, specifically not to name countries that criticize NGOs. So given than it affects how you communicate on the goings‑on at the UN, do you have any opinion?
Spokesman: My understanding is that that issue has been resolved between the two countries that you mentioned. The UN will continue its standard practice in terms of how the press releases are written for committee works, which summarizes the positions of different countries; and I will also remind you that these open committee meetings are also all webcast for all to see and admire. Roger?
Question: Thanks. Given Robert Mugabe's taken up the helm of the African Union, has the Secretary‑General had any communication with him or is…
Spokesman: No, I'm not aware that he's had any bilateral meetings with Mr. Mugabe. If that changes, I will let you know. Matthew?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask two questions about Darfur. One is: I'm sure you've seen these reports of UNAMID (African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur) pilots being taken hostage in Zalingei, and I wonder if you could confirm that. What's the status of them? What’s being done to free them? And also, there's a report of Radio Dabanga of the Rapid Support Forces of the authorities, the national security force, going into Kalma camp and setting up with heavy equipment and terrorizing residents. Given the UNAMID's protection of civilians role, are they aware of that? How come they haven't reported it?
Spokesman: I will check with you on the second part. If you're referring to the two contractors that were seized by armed men in Central Darfur yesterday, we're very much aware of it, and in the interest of getting them back to safety, we're not going to comment on the case. Yes, Nizar?
Question: Ms. Kang today, in her statement before the Security Council, mentioned the plight of the civilians in armed conflict in different areas. But not a single word about the Palestinian plight, 3 million at least are under occupation at the moment and many are being, still being displaced regularly by the Israelis, who are stealing their land, of course. Why is that? Why ‑‑ how do you explain ignoring such a…
Spokesman: Well, I think, you know, Ms. Kang's briefing was a tour d’horizon on the situation, but I don't think anyone can accuse us here of ignoring what has been going on in terms of the Palestinians. We talk about it quite a lot, if not every day, and we flag humanitarian issues on a regular basis.
Question: But this one was a comprehensive one, review and…
Spokesman: [Overlapping talking] You have your ‑‑ you know how much I appreciate your opinion, Nizar. And I've heard it and I've answered your question.
Question: Okay. I have another question regarding the statement made by Sheikh Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizbullah, today. He said after the assassination of seven members of Hizbullah in Syria, he said the rules of engagement in the region have changed and that there are no more rules, as it looks, because of this Israeli assassination. How does the United Nations view that?
Spokesman: I think the rules have not changed: the need for people to respect peace, to respect international law, not to engage in conflict. Those rules remain the same. I think our appeal, the Secretary‑General's appeal is continuing, that he appeals for all the parties in the region to de-escalate as much as possible, to push for a return to calm. We note today that the situation along the Blue Line and in the Golan remains calm, tense but calm, and we welcome that. And I think all parties involved have a responsibility to ensure that that calm continues. Erol?
Question: Steph, on a little bit lighter note, since it's Friday, and the one that you will know from the top of your mind, what is the mobile — I mean, what kind of mobile phone does the Secretary‑General use, Samsung or Apple, or does he use it frequently? Does he makes any SMS and to whom most frequently?
Spokesman: If he sends messages and e-mails, it's not for me to discuss — to discuss them. And the phone that he carries is really his business. It's — you know, I'm not in the business of providing commercial endorsements here. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about Central African Republic (CAR). Given the topic today in the Security Council, there's a long Bloomberg report about rape victims in CAR, and it describes — it says while the UN has a mandate to disarm militias, young armed Séléka men in uniform freely roam around Bambari. A Séléka base in Bambari is opposite a UN compound. So I wanted to know: what is the mandate of this MINUSCA force with regard to armed Séléka people in Bambari?
Spokesman: The mandate is quite clear and comprehensive, and you and I both read it. It's in the Security Council resolution. I think in the past the Mission has done its best to help shore up the Government, to help provide security, to help protect civilians. Do we have enough people to do the job in this situation? Probably not. So it is a situation that keeps — there will be incidents. We will react to them as best as — in the best way that we can. As to the particular details of whether or not there is a Séléka camp across the street from a UN compound, I don’t know. We can check with the Mission if that is in fact the case.
Thank you all. We will see you Monday. We’ll keep you updated about Mr. Benomar coming to you live. Have a great weekend.