23 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.

Good afternoon, everyone.

**Security Council

The Security Council will meet at 3 p.m. this afternoon to consider a resolution on Libya.  That follows the signing last week of the Libyan Political Agreement.  As you’ll recall, the Secretary-General welcomed that signing, saying that the agreement is a critical step in continuing Libya’s post-revolution transition after months of turmoil and uncertainty.  We’ve been told that Ambassador [Mathew] Rycroft [Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom] will speak to reporters at the stakeout afterward.

Yesterday afternoon, the Security Council also issued a press statement in which Council members expressed their strong commitment to supporting free and fair elections in Haiti.  They called on all political forces to work through the electoral process to ensure that the will of the people is reflected in the outcome of the election.  And the Council also just issued a press statement on Yemen.


The food security situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon significantly worsened since 2014, according to an assessment of the refugees’ vulnerability carried out by the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).  An estimated 70 per cent of refugees in Lebanon are now living below the Lebanese extreme poverty line of $3.84 per day.

Out of the more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR by June 2015, more than 760,000 were estimated to be mildly food insecure; more than 270,000 were moderately food insecure and nearly 6,000 were severely food insecure.  The number of meals eaten each day by children and adults fell compared to 2014.  In one in three households, members consumed just one or no cooked meals the previous day – up from one in four households just a year ago.


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström, today welcomed yesterday’s General Assembly resolution recognizing November 5th as World Tsunami Awareness Day.  Ms. Wahlström said that the Day will help to focus attention on measures which can be taken to reduce risks from both man-made and natural hazards and to ensure that more people live and work in places which are free from the threat, not just of tsunamis, but other sudden onset hazards such as earthquakes, floods and storms.  The proposal was first proposed by the Japanese Government after the Third UN Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction which was held in March in Sendai.

**Senior Personnel Appointments

And we have two senior appointments today.  The Secretary-General has appointed Mahamat Saleh Annadif of Chad as his Special Representative for Mali and Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, or MINUSMA.  Mr. Annadif succeeds Mongi Hamdi of Tunisia, who will complete his assignment on the 14th of January 2016.  The Secretary-General is grateful for Mr. Hamdi’s dedicated service and effective leadership at the helm of MINUSMA.  

Also, the Secretary-General has appointed Christopher Coleman of the United States as his Deputy Special Representative for the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, or UNMIK.  He succeeds Jennifer Brush of the United States to whom the Secretary-General expresses his gratitude for her dedicated service with UNMIK.  Both Mr. Annadif and Mr. Coleman bring with them an extensive national and international experience.  And more information on this is available in the Spokesman’s office.  And that is all I've got.  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  I didn't think you'd be this short.  Right.

Deputy Spokesman:  Fewer things to announce.

Question:  Happy advance of the holidays.  There's a report from AFP and others that the Burundian rebels have organized a force to oust the President.  Do you have anything more on that?  And this seems to clash with AU [African Union] peacekeepers which aren't coming or are coming or...

Deputy Spokesman:  Oh, well.  Regarding the African Union, as we mentioned yesterday, we believe that those discussions are still ongoing.  Our Special Adviser, Jamal Benomar, is currently in Kampala, Uganda, where he will be meeting with officials.  And I believe some of the Burundian parties themselves will be involved in talks in Uganda next Monday, the 28th of December.  So Mr. Benomar will continue with his work.  For us, the crucial thing is to make sure that the conditions are created for a credible and inclusive dialogue that can address the deep political challenges the country currently faces, and so Mr. Benomar will be working with the parties on that.  We are worried about any developments, such as the reports you've mentioned, that would indicate a worsening of the situation, but what we're trying to do is use whatever leverage we can to bring the parties together for talks.  Yes.

Question:  Sure. I wanted to ask, I guess, about the… the… the agenda of… of… of Mr. Benomar and his trip.  The Security Council, in the open session yesterday, they said that they'll, you know, go in January to... to Burundi.  But my understanding now is that Burundi is not… has not either yet or at all accepted the trip.  Is… among Mr. Benomar's mandates or agenda items over there, does... is it to encourage the… for him to accept the... President [Pierre] Nkurunziza to accept the trip, and does the Secretary‑General think a trip at this time by the Security Council would be a positive step?

Deputy Spokesman:   Well, certainly the involvement of the Security Council and their unified stance on Burundi has been positive, and the Secretary‑General appreciates the efforts that the members of the Security Council have been making to try and deal with this crisis.  That said, of course, the arrangements for a trip are in the hands of the Security Council, and we'll leave that matter to them.  I wouldn't… I wouldn't discuss, at this stage, what Mr. Benomar's discussions will be. Like I said, his basic priority is to make sure that he can bring the parties together and get a real dialogue going among them.

Question:  Just one… does the… I mean, generally, does the Secretary‑General believe that UN Member States should facilitate or accept a visit of the Security Council when they face a crisis such as that faced by Burundi?

Deputy Spokesman:   Well, the… the basic point is that… that all of the members of the international community need to respect the will of the Security Council, which is, as you know, the preeminent body dealing with peace and security issues.  So when they have a particular assignment or task to do, we enjoin all Member States to help them in those tasks.  Yes, Oleg.

Question:  Is that Syria?  The Twitter… your Twitter…

Deputy Spokesman:  I need a more precise question than that.

Correspondent:  Your Twitter said that expected topics, among other things, update on Syria.  I haven't heard any update on Syria yet.

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not responsible for the Twitter thing.  All… all… all we had…

All we had was about the condition of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.  It's possible that my tweeting colleague was thinking of that.

Question:  All right. A more specific question - couple of days ago, your office announced that there was a visit by the joint investigating mechanism leadership to Syria.  There was status agreement, mission status agreement, signed with the UN.  So where does it stand right now? When are they going to start field work; when it's possible; when it should be expected?

Deputy Spokesman:   Right now, part of what they're doing is following up on the field missions that were done by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. And so they will evaluate the data received from that.  They have the capacity to conduct other field visits, but there's nothing to announce on those at this stage.  What the panel, led by Ms. [Virginia] Gamba, did in Damascus was get agreement, essentially, for the work that is to be performed by the Joint Investigative Mechanism.  Yeah, and you had another one?

Question:   Yeah, also on Syria but a separate issue.  During the… I think it was yesterday, the humanitarian situation debate on Syria with the resolution adopted renewing this transborder… cross‑border humanitarian supplies, there was a question raised about possible use of the UN… border crossing points monitored by the UN for smuggling weapons into Syria and possible foreign terrorists.  Do you have any information, if something like that happened, how to fight it?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I wouldn't want to speculate.  Right now, we have a system in place that's designed to make sure that legitimate aid passes through and gets to those who most urgently need it.  At the same time, of course, there are other forces on the ground.  If there are problems with those other fighting forces, if they were to hijack shipments, for example, then the Council would be duly apprised of it.  Yeah.


Question:  Couple things. I mean, I want to be sure to ask this one.  Yesterday you'd said that both [Special Envoy for Yemen] Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed and [UN High Commissioner for Human Rights] Zeid al Hussein would speak at the stakeout.  It didn't happen.  I just wanted to know if you could provide… it was a miscommunication?  What happened?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, we were told after the briefing that High Commissioner Zeid was not feeling well, so he wasn't able to make it.  I don't know whether Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed had a different appointment or not.  But they had both had said that they were going, in advance of the briefing, to go out.

Question:  All right.  And on… on… I did see that Zeid al Hussein had said that, going forward, he's… in an interview with "The New York Times," he said that, going forward, he wants to receive all allegations of sexual abuse directly from staff at any level of Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  I wanted to know, is this… is this going to be replicated within, for example, DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations]?  Seems like… like he's taken a response to the CAR [Central African Republic] report and he's come out with some proposal.  Would be nice to ask him about it, but what is DPKO's response?  Is there any reform or changes in the way in which sexual abuse allegations are reported?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as we made clear at the time, the Secretariat is examining how we going to follow up on this report.  I believe, in the coming weeks, we'll have something more to say once we've made those evaluations and determined exactly what steps we'll take.  Yes.

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Farhan.  Amnesty has a new report saying that Russian warplanes killed 200 civilians in Syria between September 30th and November 29th.  Do you have any news on that, or is everyone just killing everyone?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that report, the Secretary‑General notes with concern Amnesty International's report on alleged violations of international humanitarian law resulting from the Russian airstrikes in Syria.  The UN cannot independently confirm the cases presented in the report.  As our monthly report to the Security Council has clearly illustrated, civilians continue to suffer immensely in Syria, including through the use of indiscriminate weapons against civilians and civilian infrastructure.  And this must stop.  The Secretary‑General reiterates his call to all parties to the conflict to immediately comply with their obligations under international, humanitarian, and human rights law.  This is essential if progress is to be made in finding a political solution following the adoption of Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).  Yeah.

Question:  I guess, as… you know, you'd said that to the CAR report there'll be some kind of response in coming weeks.  I wanted to go back to this, the OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] audit of the… the two NGOs that were found... involved or named in the John Ashe and et al indictments.  What's the status of that OIOS audit?  And is there going to be anything else said here or elsewhere in terms of reforms or reconsideration of the access of such groups for money to the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  We'll certainly tell you once we get the results from that.  As I'm aware, the work of the Office for Internal Oversight Services on this matter is ongoing.  Have a good afternoon…

Question:  One more?

Deputy Spokesman:   Wait.  One more from Oleg… or you can go and then Oleg and then we'll wrap up.  And then you.  Why not everyone have one?  Okay.

Question:  All right.  Okay.  This… it's a freedom of the press question, and it has to do with a news anchor/journalist in Ethiopia called Fikadu Mirkana, and I'm asking... he's been arrested, and he was arrested because he was reporting on protests.  Given not just that it… given that the UN has a major office in Addis [Ababa], is there any UN response to the arrest of this fairly prominent journalist for reporting on protests to loss of land by lower‑income Ethiopians?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, you're aware of our normal stance to make sure that the freedom of the press is respected everywhere.  Beyond that, I don't have the particular details of this case, so we'll need to see whether our offices in Addis have had any response on that.  Yes, Oleg.

Question:  As a follow‑up to the cross‑border issue and allegedly smuggling weapons, are you saying that the UN monitoring that is in place right now is sufficient enough to stop such violation or to do anything with that?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have a monitoring situation... system in place, as we do in general with humanitarian deliveries, to make sure that we can verify that humanitarian aid goes to the people who actually need it. If there's a problem, if there's any breakdown in that system, that would be reported to the Security Council.  And Evelyn?

Question:  Yes.  Saudi Arabia has decided not to stone to death a Sri Lankan maid accused of alleged adultery.  Instead, she'll go to prison for endless years.  Did the UN at all intervene in this or any of the human rights bodies?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think you'll have seen the comments that were made by the relevant human rights bodies on this particular case.  There were some interventions made in which our concerns about the death penalty and particularly also the penalty of stoning were made clear.  Have a good day.

For information media. Not an official record.