21 December 2015

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Let’s you and I get started, then.


Over the weekend, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the Special Envoy for Yemen, briefed the press in Geneva on the talks that were held in Switzerland among the Yemeni parties.  He noted that, unfortunately, there were numerous violations of the cessation of hostilities, which affected the progress of the talks.  Despite this, the parties made serious progress through identifying a framework for negotiations towards a comprehensive settlement, in addition to defining a set of relevant confidence-building measures relating to prisoner release, improved social services and improving the flow of humanitarian aid to Taizz and other Yemeni governorates.  The participants likewise agreed to a negotiating framework for a comprehensive agreement to end the conflict.  

Given the centrality of the cessation of hostilities to the success of talks, the Special Envoy has elected to adjourn the talks until the middle of January 2016.  In order to ensure adherence to the cessation of hostilities and enable sustainability, the Special Envoy judges that additional bilateral consultations will be required in Yemen and in the region in the coming weeks.  Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed shall continue to work with the parties to identify and implement confidence-building measures that will help build respect for a durable ceasefire and peace process.  The Special Envoy wishes to commend the participants for the work so far undertaken and plans to convene the next round of these talks on 14 January 2016.


Yesterday evening, the radars of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) detected three rockets fired from the general area of Al-Hinniyah in southern Lebanon towards Israel. The Israeli Defense Forces informed UNIFIL that two rockets had impacted in northern Israel, and a third fell in the sea. The IDF retaliated with approximately eight rounds of 120 millimetre mortar fire that impacted near Zibqin in southern Lebanon.  No casualties were reported from either side.  There has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the rocket attack.

UNIFIL is maintaining close contact with the parties and has called for maximum restraint in order to prevent any escalation of the situation.  The UN peacekeepers, in cooperation with the parties, have launched an investigation to determine the facts and circumstances of the incident, as well as to locate the launching sites of the rocket fire.


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom, briefed the Security Council this morning on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the country.  He commended the National Unity Government for advancing its political agenda, including the implementation of the terms of the September 2014 agreement, as well as for continuing to put into place the building blocks for long-term economic improvement.  Mr. Haysom said that Afghanistan, which continues to confront countless challenges, has made it through its first post-transitional year — an achievement in itself.

In 2016, he stressed that it will be important that the Government demonstrates increasingly its effectiveness.  The Special Representative added that it would also be time for the international community to make critical decisions on the level and type of assistance that it will continue to offer — especially given that events elsewhere in the world today are competing for international attention and limited resources.  He called on donors to invest in Afghanistan’s reconstruction and security.  Mr. Haysom is expected to speak to the media at the stakeout following the briefing.  And then this afternoon, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Kyung-wha Kang, will brief the Council on Syria.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN [Organization Stabilization] Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO, says that, on 19 December, its attack helicopters destroyed an Allied Democratic Forces camp near Eringeti, in Beni territory, North Kivu.  The operation was coordinated at the local level with the Democratic Republic of the Congo Armed Forces (FARDC).  The Mission is currently assessing the impact of the operation.


The UN refugee agency and its partners are urging Hungary to refrain from policies and practices promoting intolerance, and fear and fuelling xenophobia against refugees and migrants.  UNHCR has joined other voices to call on Hungarian leaders to adopt the true spirit of humanity in helping those who have been forced out of their countries against their own will and choice and are currently seeking safety in Europe.  Today’s joint call stresses the need for the Hungarian Government to acknowledge that refugees are coming to Europe after having endured trauma, tragedy and loss while searching for hope and dignity to start a new life far from the upheavals of war and conflict.

**Honour Roll

And for the honour roll, our thanks go to Solomon Islands, which has become the 141st Member State to pay its regular budget dues in full.  That's it for me.  Any questions?  Going once…  All right.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I'll ask one.  On Yemen, I mean, I'm just wondering how the SG [Secretary-General] is kind of taking this… the end of talks, going to reconvene in 15 days.  Fighting seems to be going on today.  There are Government offensives happening.  I mean, how does he gauge the success of these talks, which seem to have not had a huge effect on the ground?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, there have been a number of measures that are promising and are in the process of being put in place.  Among them, of course, there was the cessation of hostilities, which was declared by both sides, but as you can see, and as the Special Envoy has made clear, it hasn't been observed.  So, it's very crucially important that the cessation of hostilities be respected and that the fighting be brought to a halt.  And Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is going to continue to work on that.  He will brief the Security Council on this tomorrow.  And we hope that the parties will then move forward in accepting the need to abide by the cessation of hostilities.  And there are other steps, as well, including the confidence‑building measures, such as the exchange of prisoners that are promising but need to be carried out, and so we're going to keep pushing at that until we get to the next round of talks in mid‑January.

Question:  Can I just follow up?  I mean, is there a concern that the parties represented in Switzerland or whoever's chosen as the representative, that they can't really control the people that are fighting on the ground, those resistance forces that have been lumped in with the anti‑Houthi kind of side, but they clearly take different marching orders than what the Saudis are saying or what [Abd Rabbuh Mansur] Hadi's saying.  How does that… how is that reconciled?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're concerned about violations from whichever side.  It's clear that the parties themselves, including their representatives who were in Switzerland, need to do more to bring their fighting forces in line with what they've agreed to.  And we're going to continue to press there.  And, as I've mentioned, the Special Envoy does intend for there to be further talks in Yemen and in the region to try and make sure that the cessation of hostilities and the other key steps are carried out.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  A follow‑up on that and then something on Burundi.  I mean, can you… both… I heard in the… in the discussions in Switzerland, but also online, since the Houthi side has said they believe Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is essentially operating for the Saudi coalition, attempting to waste time as military operations continue against them.  Is there… what's the response to that view?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, that's utterly false.  He's been negotiating to make sure that both sides, in fact all of the sides, because it doesn't really even just boil down simply to two, respect the cessation of hostilities, stop fighting and negotiate in good faith with each other.  He's been trying very hard to make sure the negotiations are conducted in good faith, and he will continue with that.  And like I said, he will brief the Security Council on this tomorrow.

Question:  And is he… was he… either he or the Secretariat here aware of airstrikes carried out on Sana’a during the talks?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're aware of the various violations, and he has spoken out about that.  He spoke to the press in Geneva about this yesterday.  Yes, Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I was just wondering… I know the SG is planning to come out with a new counter‑terrorism strategy report in January.  And I was just wondering, is there a sense that this will be soon or latter part?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  No, it will be soon.  In fact, it probably will be going to the Member States — possibly even before the end of this year, it will go out to them — and it will become a document hopefully at the start of next year.  Yes?

Question:  I wanted to ask a couple things on Burundi.  One is, as… as… you know, the African Union Peace and Security Council has made this proposal 5,000 peacekeepers and set a 96‑hour deadline for the Government to respond.  The assembly has met and rejected it and said it would be a violation of the sovereignty of the country.  So, I wanted to know, what is the Secretariat… Mr. [Jamal] Benomar, what do they… you think of both the [African Union Peace and Security Council] taking a seemingly fairly aggressive protection of civilian stance and the Government rejecting it?  

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, regarding that, I believe that the discussions will continue with the African Union and the Government of Burundi.  But, we certainly support the efforts by the African Union and its Peace and Security Council to deal with the protection of civilians in Burundi.  We've made clear our alarm at recent developments and the need for there to be additional steps to bring the tensions on the ground to a halt.  As you know, the Security Council itself has been apprised by the Secretary‑General of various options for the way forward, and we await their guidance on that.  Meanwhile, Mr. Benomar has started some of his travels.  I believe he was in Washington, D.C., in the last few days, and he is expected to head to the region shortly.

Correspondent:  And then… thanks a lot.  I wanted… something a little more specific.  It has to do with this vetting of troops from Burundi, but I guess you could say elsewhere.  I know it was said last week that Gaspard Baratuza, a Deputy Spokesman of the army, was being repatriated.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  But, I've since seen a letter… it was his deployment letter, but it also involved two other majors in the army who are said to have been involved in the… the assault on a hospital in May, right after the coup attempt in which people were killed in their beds, and these involve Mr. Pierre Niyonzima and Jimmy Rusheshe.  And both of them, according to a letter from the Burundian Army, are… were being deployed to the UN in the Central African Republic.  So, I wanted… I guess I want to ask you, like, what does the vetting consist of?  What was the vetting that Mr. Baratuza failed that these two individuals apparently don't fail, given their involvement in extrajudicial executions?

Deputy Spokesman:  As we get information… if any information causes us to have concerns about deployment, it is reviewed in that light.  In that light, Mr. Baratuza, his suspension was first delayed, and then he was repatriated.  And so, depending upon the information, as we get it, we'll act upon it.

Question:  So, does… I guess what I'm saying is does the… either the human rights presence of the UN in Burundi have information about those who commanded the assault on this hospital, it's called Bumerec Hospital, in May and the connection to the people that were being deployed?

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said, we… yes, we do have a human rights presence in Burundi.  As we get information, we act upon, and that includes anyone being deployed.  Zach?

Question:  Regarding the dues… you just went through the roll call again and congratulated the Solomon Islands.  I wonder… you said the 141st?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, 141.

Question:  Which… what proportion of the dues does the 141 that have already submitted their dues represent the total amount that's supposed to be given?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have a dollar amount, but the budgetary figures are available online.  Beyond that, as you know, for… even for the countries that have not paid in full, many of them have paid enough of their contribution that our budget is going.  For example, the United States gave a very significant contribution just a little over a month ago.  Even though they don't count as fully paid up, it amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars, so that keeps our money going.  So, our budgetary figure is quite good, and you can see the results online.  But, as you know, we often also have our comptroller and head of management provide the necessary figures.  But, we're in good shape as we come to the end of the year.

Question:  So just as a follow‑up, is it common that a Member State will do what the United States did and give a portion of their dues?  Is that something that happens a lot?  Or do they pay in full…?

Deputy Spokesman:  It happens from time to time.  I mean, some countries have a larger assessment than others.  So, for many of them, even a partial payment can be quite a lot of our operating expenses.  And, of course, for some of this, it's just a question of the different times by which countries' own budgetary and financial cycles meet up with the UN's own cycle, and so we get different contributions coming at later parts of the year.  Yeah, Sam?

Question:  I just wanted to clarify what you mean.  Do you mean the US has paid only part of its dues or that it's paid an amount that surpasses its dues, but it's earmarked some other way?


Deputy Spokesman:  It's not fully paid up with its dues for 2015.  However, its contribution was large enough that it includes a payment for previous years' dues and a partial payment for this year. Yes, Pam.  You had your hand up?

Question:  Yes, thank you, Farhan.  The Security Council resolution passed on Friday has Syria… has the Secretary‑General reporting to the Council on Syria and is supposed to have intel… or information sharing.  How does he gather the information sharing?  Is he in touch with MI6 [United Kingdom Secret Intelligence Service] or MI5 [United Kingdom Security Service] or CIA [United States Central Intelligence Agency]?  And is it only UN statistics?  And then I have a follow‑up on Afghanistan.

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General, in preparing his reports, will collect information provided by relevant Member States.  He's in touch, as you know, with the Governments of Member States and gets information from them as they see fit.

Question:  And so it's solely from Member States, not from any intelligence gathering that the UN does or any reports from the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  Member States have their own resources, which they can share with us, and, of course, we have our own expertise through our various departments, including the Departments for Political Affairs and Peacekeeping Operations and others, by which we draw up our reports.

Correspondent:  They feed into the fact that… the questions of terrorism and everything else or ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and the Sham].

Deputy Spokesman:  They'll provide information relevant to the request by the Security Council.

Question:  Okay.  And a follow‑up on Afghanistan.  The report by Mr. Haysom talked about some of the achievements and security concerns.  As you know, there was a… an… a suicide bombing this morning that killed some American troops.  Do you think… is there any sense… has there been any comment by the Secretary‑General on UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan]?  And is there any sense that there's much more needed to deal with the security concerns for UNAMA?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary‑General has provided quite a bit on the work of the UN Assistance Mission, UNAMA, including the report that Mr. Haysom just presented to the Security Council.  Beyond that, the Secretary‑General, in his year‑end press conference last week, also talked about the assistance that Afghanistan will need going ahead, so I would refer you back to last Wednesday's press conference.

Question:  But, that was… if I can follow up, that was principally on the reconstruction and other things.  Is there a sense that there's more needed on security?

Deputy Spokesman:  That's a discussion that's going on in the Security Council right now, and Mr. Haysom, I believe, will also speak to you at the stakeout.  So, you can talk to him further about that.  Yes?

Question:  I apologies if you already addressed the issue, but is there an update on Libya?  Is there a resolution coming by in the next hours?

Deputy Spokesman:  Ultimately, it's up to the Security Council to determine whether it will have fresh resolutions.  You'll have seen what we have said about Libya and the agreement.  Both the Secretary‑General and his Special Representative, Martin Kobler, came out with statements a few days ago concerning the agreement that was reached, so I'd just refer you to that.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask, do you have anything from South Sudan on the reported arrival in Juba of the SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] in Opposition of some 150 people and how the process agreed to in Addis is being implemented?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, no, we'll have to check with the mission.

Question:  And also… okay.  I wanted to ask you, on Egypt, there's been a three‑year jail sentence imposed on a law student for posting an image of President [Abdel Fattah el] Sisi with Mickey Mouse ears on him on Facebook, three‑year jail sentence.  Does the UN think that that's a reasonable response to satire?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we'd certainly have to look at the details of this case, but obviously, we are against any sort of steps that impinge upon freedom of expression, including the freedom to have satire.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.