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7 January 2016

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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Syria

Yacoub El Hillo, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, and Kevin Kennedy, the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, are calling for unimpeded humanitarian access to reach those in need in hard-to-reach and besieged areas in Syria.  In a statement, they say that they have been particularly concerned about the plight of nearly 400,000 people besieged by parties to the conflict in locations such as Deir Ez-Zor city, Daraya, Foah and Kefraya, as well as besieged areas of East Ghouta.  In the last year, only 10 per cent of all requests for UN inter-agency convoys to hard-to-reach and besieged areas were approved and delivered.

In particular, almost 42,000 people remaining in Madaya are at risk of further hunger and starvation.  The UN has received credible reports of people dying from starvation or being killed while trying to leave.

Since then, the UN welcomes today’s approval from the Government of Syria to have access to Madaya, Foah and Kefraya and we are preparing to deliver humanitarian assistance in the coming days.

International humanitarian law prohibits the targeting of civilians.  It also prohibits the starvation of civilians as a tactic of war.  The UN calls for immediate humanitarian access to all hard-to-reach areas and besieged areas and for the facilitation of safe evacuation of civilians.

**Yemen

The World Health Organization (WHO) is concerned about the deteriorating health situation in Taiz, Yemen, where more than 250,000 people have been living in a state of virtual siege since November 2015.  All of the city's six hospitals have been forced to partially close some services and are overwhelmed with injured patients.  Humanitarian organizations are struggling to deliver medical and surgical supplies due to the insecurity.

Five World Health Organization trucks carrying medicines and medical supplies have been prevented from entering the city since 14 December 2015.  Three of those trucks are carrying 500 cylinders of oxygen that are critically needed by the hospitals.

WHO calls on all parties involved in the conflict to allow the secure movement and delivery of medical and humanitarian aid to all people, regardless of their location.  In times of crisis, it is vital that health facilities remain functional and provide people in need with uninterrupted access to life-saving medical care.

**Libya

Turning to Libya, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya, Martin Kobler, has strongly condemned today’s terrorist attack on a security training centre in Zliten.

He said that this act once again shows that urgent progress is required towards the formation of the Government of National Accord and the rebuilding of Libyan security forces.

The Special Representative continues to urge all Libyans to put their differences aside and unite to confront the scourge of terrorism, adding that Libya cannot afford to remain divided in the face of such terrorist acts.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

From the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Mission in that country (known as MONUSCO) has received reports that on 7 January, the FDLR — or Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda — reportedly killed 14 civilians, seriously wounded eight and abducted two others in North Kivu.  Over the past several weeks, there has been an increase in ethnic tensions between the Hutu and Nande communities and clashes between the FDLR and various Mayi-Mayi groups.

**Darfur

A note from Darfur, where the African Union-UN Mission in Darfur says that a patrol was ambushed today by an unidentified armed group near Anka, North Darfur.  The perpetrators, who greatly outnumbered UNAMID’s peacekeepers, seized one machine gun, four rifles and rounds of ammunition.  One peacekeeper was injured in the attack.

UNAMID condemns such attacks on its personnel.  The Mission is working closely with the relevant Sudanese authorities to investigate the incident.

**South Sudan

Matthew, you’d asked about South Sudan.

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reports heavy shooting that took place yesterday from the Pibor airstrip in Jonglei, close to the Mission's compound.  Reports about those involved in the fighting are still unclear.  Some 260 civilians fled to the UNMISS compound for protection, but left a few hours later after the firing died down.

The UN Mission observed later in the day that most shops were closed in the market and that there were few civilians in town.

Overall, the UN Mission reports it is protecting some 193,000 civilians in its sites across the country.

**Food Prices

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today that abundant supplies and slow economic growth have driven food prices down for the fourth consecutive year.

In December, the Organization’s Food Price Index declined a further 1 per cent from its revised November value, as falling prices for meat, dairy and cereals more than offset gains by sugar and vegetable oils.  If you are interested in food prices, go to FAO’s website.

**Appointment

Today the Secretary-General is announcing Parfait Onanga-Anyanga of Gabon as his Special Representative for the Central African Republic and Head of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in that country (MINUSCA).

As you know, he had been serving up until today as the Acting Special Representative — and that is since August of [last] year.

**Questions and Answers

Khalas.  Nizar?  Glad to see you.

Question:  Thank you.  Regarding the attack in Sana’a against the Iranian embassy, of course, in Tehran, when there was an attack, there was condemnation from the United Nations.  This time it's the coalition aircraft that attacked Sana’a embassy there.  What's the position of the United Nations on this?

Spokesman:  Obviously, it's a matter of principle.  The United Nations stands firmly against any attacks on diplomatic compounds and diplomatic personnel that are to be protected by the host authorities, according to the Vienna Convention.  On this particular issue, we're obviously trying to gather some information.  I think there… from what we've seen in the press, there is differing information, and we know the coalition said they're investigating it.  But as soon as we get more information, we may have more to say on it.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Follow‑up on Yemen.  Then I want to ask you about Burundi.  I just… I'm sure you've seen the… the… that the representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has been declared persona non grata by the stated Government from Dubai.  And what's the UN's response to him being blocked?  And also if you can give an update on what Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed… I think you said he was going to kick back into action.  Where is he and what's he doing?

Spokesman:  He has been in action.  I think they expect him in the region today.  We hope to get an update.  On the announcement on the listing of the Head of the Human Rights Office in Yemen as persona non grata, it's obviously an extremely regrettable development.  I know our colleagues at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights are waiting for some sort of official written communication from the Yemeni authorities.  But we would obviously underscore that that person has been doing a very, very good job, an excellent job, and as I said, we're waiting for more official confirmation.

Question:  Just one… I guess specific on that.  It seems like probably most UN system personnel if they go into Yemen are flown on some kind of a UN flight.  Would that be accurate?  So does the UN check with the Government, the [Abdrabuh Mansour] Hadi Government, all people that it flies to Sana’a?  Do you see what I'm saying?  Would you… even though it's regrettable, is this… is this a statement that you're bound to respect as the UN system…  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Obviously, the United Nations respects the sovereignty of Member States.  We hope… we are obviously awaiting further detail on this, but we cannot… it is difficult for us to keep a staff member in any country against the wishes of the host country.

Question:  But like in Libya, if you flew people in, which government would you check with?  You'd now… I guess you'd check with this new… in the past, when it was unclear who was the Government, what would you do?

Spokesman:  We'd check… obviously, there is a recognized State by… according to the United Nations, and I'm sure information is shared with that Government.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesman:  Ms. Kent.  Sorry and Ms. Fasulo.  You are Ms. Kent.

Question:  Yeah, sorry.

Spokesman:  You may speak.

Question:  So I wanted to ask you… I think you know about this.  The UN library put out a tweet on 31 December, and in the tweet, it says the UN library's most borrowed book of 2015… what was our most popular book?  And the title is Immunity of Heads State and State Officials for International Crimes.  I think you're aware of this tweet, and I'm just wondering if the UN has a comment.

Spokesman:  Well, you know, first of all, I do think it's a very interesting book and one that deserves to be looked at.  I think to give… bring you a little clarity, it was the book… in terms of… it was the book that was most borrowed in terms of new acquisitions for 2015.  The book that was, in fact, the most borrowed for 2015 and 2014 is I am Malala.  And I cannot tell you who took the book out if that was your question.

Question:  No.  [laughter]  My question is…

Spokesman:  Either book.

Question:  My question is: can you tell us how many times the book on immunity was taken out versus the number of times the Malala book was taken out?

Spokesman:  I can.  The book on immunity was borrowed twice.  And… was borrowed twice and checked out to be browsed in‑house four times.  The Malala book was checked out eight times in 2015 and almost every month in 2014, which by my calculation would make it close to 12.   Library science question, Linda, or are we moving on to another topic?

Question:  Out of the library.

Spokesman:  Out of library.  If you could use your mic, please.  Thanks.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I have a question regarding what you said earlier about only 10 per cent of, I guess, UN interagency convoys have been successful in delivering aid, I think to East Ghouta or…

Spokesman:  Yeah, in general, to hard‑to‑reach…

Question:  Hard‑to‑reach.

Spokesman:  I said hard‑to‑reach areas.  But go ahead.  I'll…

Question:  My question is, are there any independent NGO's (non-governmental organizations) on the ground that have been… first of all, are there any?  And are they delivering aid and have been successful in doing so?

Spokesman:  Yes, there are independent humanitarian groups, and in fact, a lot of work that the UN does is done through local partners.  I mean, the real heroes of what is… of the humanitarian aid that is being distributed in Syria are Syrian humanitarian workers, Syrian Red Crescent, and others.  I don't have at my fingertips any figures to the amount of aid that may have been distributed outside of the UN monitoring system.  And, since it may be done outside the UN monitoring system, I may not be able to get numbers.  But I will ask my colleagues at OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs).

Question:  Just following up.  But in general, is it the UN that is providing or… when it can provide, the overwhelming majority of aid?

Spokesman:  Yeah, because we're talking about large volumes of aid, and that is aid that is being brought about, you know, especially when you're talking about food stuff and medical supplies, it is being brought in through the UN system.  Go?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  After this nuclear test by the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) yesterday… no, two days ago, the Republic of Korea is about to resume its propaganda broadcasting…

Spokesman:  Sorry, you have to speak a little louder.

Question:  Sorry.

Spokesman:  I'm sorry.

Question:  The Republic of Korea is about to resume its propaganda broadcast near the border and… which may again raise tension between North and South, like the last summer.  Do you have any comment on that?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General would encourage all parties to work towards reconciliation and towards de‑escalating tensions.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask about… on… on… about Burundi.  On Monday I'd asked you about this story about rapes by the Government militia in opposition neighbourhoods by an RFI (Radio France Internationale) reporter.  And now basically the Government has said that they will… will… I'm going to read the direct quote because it's pretty troubling… crack down on or… or take care of this reporter.  They said… they said, the authorized Government services will take the necessary measures to deal with this journalist's disruptive activities.  So many press freedom groups are saying this is a threat by the Government, and I wanted to know, one, what do you think of that?  What does the UN system think or do about that?  And also what about the underlying report of an increase in rapes targeted at opposition neighbourhoods?

Spokesman:  I don't have anything specific on your second question.  Obviously, those kinds of reports of increases of sexual violence are extremely disturbing and need to be investigated.  On your first part, it is vital, as we've always said from here, that there is… that the media be allowed to report freely and free from harassment and especially free from personal harassment.  Okay.

Question:  DPRK.  This is about the Secretary‑General's on again, off again, maybe now off again proposed trip to the DPRK.  Yesterday the Permanent Representative of Japan, when asked by Inner City Press about such a trip, said, if done… if done carrying all past resolutions of the UN, not only Security Council but also the Human Rights Council, it would be meaningful, and he hopes an appropriate moment can be chosen.  One, I mean, I guess… I guess the Secretary‑General would be carrying all these resolutions with him, if not physically, at least…

Spokesman:  I mean, the Secretary‑General is very much aware of all the Security Council resolutions and the history of the DPRK and on various files with the United Nations.  As we said before, if there's a trip, it will be announced.  And we're all, of course, very much aware of the sensitivity of such a trip.

Question:  Was he aware of some concern… of concerns by some Member States at the time that he was talking about the trip that… that… that these issues would not be sufficiently…

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General is very much aware of what various Member States feel on the issue of the DPRK.

Question:  And one last point if you… I just want, if you could either, maybe DPA (Department of Political Affairs) will have something on this.  There were two reports issued yesterday about torture in Sri Lanka, not in the past but in the last year as well while Mr. [Maithripala] Sirisena has been in the Government, a UK‑based group and a South Africa‑based group, very detailed reports including, like, locations that they found.  What is… I mean… I guess…

Spokesman:  I will… I will check.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesman:  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.