The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Just as you know, at 12:30 p.m., in this very room, the President of the General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoft, will be here to brief you on upcoming activities of the General Assembly in 2016.
This morning, earlier this morning, the Secretary-General briefed the General Assembly on his Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, calling for a new global partnership to confront this menace.
He stressed that violent extremism is a direct assault on the UN Charter and poses a grave threat to international peace and security.
The Secretary-General notes that the threat of violent extremism is not limited to any one religion, nationality or ethnic group, but he recognizes that today the vast majority of victims worldwide are Muslims.
He said that terrorist groups are not just seeking to unleash violent action, but to provoke a harsh reaction. He added that we all lose by responding to ruthless terror with mindless policy — policies that turn people against each other, alienate already marginalized groups, and play into the hands of the enemy.
The Secretary-General’s full remarks are available in my office and the report itself is available online and on the racks, I believe.
This morning, the Security Council is continuing to meet in closed consultations on Cyprus. They are being briefed by the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Espen Barth Eide, and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the UN Peacekeeping mission in Cyprus (UNFICYP), Lisa Buttenheim.
And I am keeping an eye on the stakeout and I will let you know if he comes out or when he comes out.
Also on Cyprus, you will have seen yesterday evening, we announced that the Secretary-General will host a meeting in the margins of the World Economic Forum on 21 January with the Greek Cypriot leader and the Turkish Cypriot leader to take stock of the state-of-play in the negotiations.
This afternoon, at 3:00 p.m., the Security Council will hold a meeting on the Middle East to discuss the humanitarian situation in Syria. Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Kyung-wha Kang will brief the Council on aid deliveries to besieged towns in Syria, and she has told us that she will be talking to you after she briefs the Council.
On Syria, we have an update on the aid that has gone into the Syrian towns of Madaya, Foah and Kafraya over the past day.
UNICEF confirms that cases of severe malnutrition were found among children in Madaya following its participation in the second joint humanitarian mission to the area. That was on Thursday. The people the team met in Madaya were exhausted and extremely frail. The UNICEF team that went to Madaya was particularly saddened and shocked to have witnessed the death of a young man named Ali, who was severely malnourished and who passed away in front of their very eyes, in the town’s clinic.
Meanwhile, nutritionists from the World Health Organization and UNICEF have conducted a malnutrition assessment, and the Syrian Arab Red Cross (SARC) conducted medical examinations on more than 350 people. The reports from those would be available soon but already it was clear that medical treatment and further assessments would be required.
The World Food Programme’s contribution to the mission included wheat flour for 39,000 people, which would last a month, and wheat flour for 20,000 people in the towns of Foah and Kafraya. It took many hours of negotiations until the convoys were allowed into Madaya, at around 7 p.m. last night.
We reiterate our previous calls on all parties to the conflict to lift the siege on communities in Syria and provide unimpeded, unconditional and sustained humanitarian access to all who need it.
Yesterday afternoon, you will have seen that we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General welcomed the release of two citizens of Saudi Arabia who had been held in Yemen since March 2015. He is greatly relieved that they were released in apparent good health. The Secretary-General wants to thank his Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, for his efforts to secure the safe release of these individuals. The two [Saudi] citizens departed Sana’a on the morning of 14 January, accompanied by the Special Envoy.
On Burundi, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, warned today that deeply worrying new trends are emerging in the country, including cases of sexual violence by security forces and a sharp increase in enforced disappearances and torture cases.
He also called for an urgent investigation into the events that took place in Bujumbura on 11-12 December, including the reported existence of at least nine mass graves.
According to information gathered from inhabitants of various neighbourhoods, some of the victims of human rights violations during the search operations that followed the 11 December events were targeted because they were Tutsis.
At least 130 people were killed in December, double the number of killings during the previous month.
The High Commissioner said that a complete breakdown in law and order is just around the corner in Burundi and, with armed opposition groups also becoming more active, and the potentially lethal ethnic dimension starting to rear its head, this will inevitably end in disaster if the current rapidly deteriorating trajectory continues, said the High Commissioner
The World Health Organization confirms today a new case of Ebola in Sierra Leone, reflecting the ongoing risk of new flare-ups of the virus in affected countries.
The Sierra Leone Government acted rapidly to respond to this new case. Through the country’s new emergency operations centre, a joint team of local authorities, WHO and partners are investigating the origin of the case.
As you may remember, the World Health Organization warned in a statement yesterday that Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone remain at high risk of additional small outbreaks in the coming months due to the virus persisting in survivors after recovery.
The Food and Agriculture Organization presented today a $50 million emergency plan as Ethiopia faces the worst drought in 30 years.
10.2 million people are believed to be food insecure after major crop failure and livestock losses due to El Niño. According to the FAO, the outlook for 2016 is very grim with access to pasture and water continuing to deteriorate until the start of the next rainy season in March.
More information on the FAO website.
A couple of senior appointments today: we are announcing the appointment of Major General Hassen Ebrahim Mussa of Ethiopia as the Force Commander of the United Nations Interim Force for Abyei (UNISFA).
He succeeds Lieutenant General Birhanu Jula Gelalcha of Ethiopia, who will complete his mission on 20 January, this month.
We are also announcing today the appointment of Justin Forsyth, a British national, as Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
He will succeed Ms. Johanna (Yoka) Brandt, who has been appointed as Secretary-General at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, and to whom the Secretary-General would like to thank for her exceptional service and commitment to UNICEF.
Those biographies are available online.
Lastly, honour roll, first one for 2016. We want to thank Armenia, Haiti, Hungary, Kyrgyz Republic, Senegal, South Sudan and Ukraine. Those seven Members are the first to have paid their regular contributions in full for 2016. Off to a good start.
**Questions and Answers
Mr. Klein, then Mr. Lee.
Question: Yes. You mentioned that in the…
Spokesman: Mr. Eide is at the stakeout for those of you who are interested in Cyprus more than me.
Spokesman: On that note.
Correspondent: Well, I'm sticking with you.
Spokesman: Thanks, Joe.
Question: You mentioned that the Secretary‑General, in his remarks this morning, said that the majority of victims of global terrorism are Muslims, but the perpetrators are of all different faiths and beliefs and so forth. But why didn't he acknowledge the demonstrable fact that the vast majority of global terrorists today are radical Islamists? Just look at all the various incidents around the world, including yesterday with Indonesia and so forth; I don't have to recite them. They are radical Islamists, jihadists. So why couldn't he acknowledge that fact?
Spokesman: I think, you know, the Secretary‑General's focus is not on targeting or pointing finger at one ethnic group, one religious group, or people who claim to act in the name of a particular religion. I think we have seen that those Muslim extremists have been roundly condemned by Muslim leaders, and I think whether you're talking about Da’esh or others, it is clear that they do not represent the religion they pertain, they claim to represent. I think the focus needs to be on what each and every country can do to prevent the rise of violent extremism. The Secretary‑General's, you know, obviously put forward about 70 recommendations, which Member States will study. At the heart of it is a call on each and every Member State to come up with its own national plan to prevent and to combat extremism.
Question: But he took pains to point out, in his, in his view, the fact that Muslims constitute the majority of victims. He did not refer at all to the genocide going on in the Middle East of Christians, for example. So I'm wondering why saw fit to focus on one religious group in terms of victims and not…
Spokesman: I would encourage you…
Question: …and not…
Spokesman: I understand. I would encourage you to read his whole speech and his whole report, which clearly addresses the issue that the world as a whole face and that every religious group and ethnic group needs to face. Mr. Lee.
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. Something on Burundi, but I wanted… it seems inevitable to ask you. There's a big protest in front of the building by Oromo people saying that more than 140 of them have been killed by Ethiopia. So I'd asked you about it on Monday. You said you don't have anything but you'd check. What does the UN know given that it has an office in Addis about these killings?
Spokesman: Okay. And your question on… on Burundi?
Question: Sure. On Burundi, I wanted… you read out the, the… Mr. Zeid's findings. How does this impact on the deployment of Burundian troops to UN peacekeeping in CAR? And I wanted to ask you about the trip the Council is taking next week. Can you describe how, by who… who and how the decision was made of which media can cover the trip?
Spokesman: Sure. The numbers of seats attributed to media was very limited. A discussion was had with us, and a number… Security Council members, and a list was drawn up. Not every journalist can go on every trip. I think if you're talking about yourself, you have travelled with the Secretary‑General before. As I said, not everyone can go on every trip.
Question: Journalists were supposed to cover their own costs. So what does the UN plane… is from where to where when you say there's a limited seats?
Spokesman: There's a UN plane from Addis Ababa to, from Addis Ababa to Bujumbura and back to Addis with very limited numbers, which is also limiting the numbers of staff members who can accompany. We wanted to send somebody to help mind the press. We were not able to — we were not able to either. [cross talk] If you make your own way to Bujumbura, we would be happy to assist you on the ground.
Question: How about the…
Spokesman: On the protests, we're obviously very much aware of the protests not only going on outside but in Ethiopia itself. I think the Secretary‑General would call on the Government and the groups concerned to hold a constructive and peaceful dialogue and also to ensure that all those who want to protest are able to express themselves freely and free of harassment as it is their right.
Question: And on… just the last final thing. On how this impacts… you just announced an Ethiopian general heading UNISFA, and obviously Ethiopia is a major troop contributor. How do these two issues — one what Mr. Zeid calls a crackdown, gang rapes, etc., how does that impact Burundian soldiers serving the UN in CAR or…
Spokesman: I think whether it's Burundian soldiers or soldiers from any nationality, as you know, for serving in DPKO, in peacekeeping missions, they go through a screening policy to ensure that the individuals and the units themselves are free of any human rights violations. Matthew?
Spokesman: Excellent. All right. Let's go.
Question: [inaudible] over the course of the week.
Spokesman: I'm sure you did.
Question: I sent them to you, but I'll reiterate them now. The… the… one has to do with… and you know, The Washington Post story, I'm sure that you saw, that provided more detail about the peacekeeper rapes in Central African Republic, they named and quoted an unnamed UN official that the perpetrators, alleged perpetrators were from Gabon, France, Morocco and Burundi. So I wanted to know, since that's so specific, what has been done with the individuals that are accused of buying sex with 13‑year‑olds for 50 cents?
Spokesman: I think all these allegations are being investigated. Obviously, the countries, the countries concerned have also been notified. And, as we said, these allegations, among others, are being investigated. The peacekeeping mission on the ground, MINUSCA, led by Parfait Onanga‑Anyanga, have sent joint teams along with UNICEF and other experts to investigate these cases, especially the ones at the Mpoko camp. And we're also trying to put in place with local partners preventive measures, including additional patrols in the camp.
Question: But the individuals charged, are they still around the camp or are they suspended…
Spokesman: I'm not sure they're charged. These are allegations and things we're looking into.
Question: And in terms of charges, there was yesterday one, the individuals arrested in the UN corruption cases involving, allegedly, John Ashe and Ng Lap Seng, Heidi Piao has pled guilty and has said she will cooperate, so this seems to… as before, you've always said, it's just an allegation. Seems like if somebody pleads guilty and is going to serve time, there's probably something to the allegation. What does the Secretary‑General… I noticed in his speech about his priorities there was not a mention of UN reforms or trying to look into this. Does he see this as more serious now?
Spokesman: I think we've always taken these allegations seriously, and I wouldn't want anybody to think otherwise. The audit that he ordered by OIOS is ongoing. It should be wrapped up, I believe, at some point next month. I think UNDP is also in the final stage of reviewing their audit. As we've said, we will also be putting forward some recommendations to the President of the General Assembly's Office to ensure that there is greater transparency and efficiencies in how both the Secretariat and, obviously, the PGA's office is run. Masood and then Linda.
Question: [off mic]. Does the Secretary‑General have any advice for these two countries at this point in time when…
Spokesman: Well, I think the advice of the Secretary‑General would always be for on, in order to support the talks. But, obviously, there are circumstances involved, but he's always been very supportive of the dialogue between the leaders of Pakistan and India in order to resolve a number of the outstanding issues at hand. Linda?
Question: Thank you, Stéph. This is in regard to the upcoming Syria talks next week. I was wondering if you could share with us any developments or the latest developments in terms of which opposition groups will be participating and if any of the groups or the Government has placed any kinds of conditions for their participation?
Spokesman: I think, as we get closer to the date of the talks, there obviously, as would be natural, more tensions and public statements that are made by various sides. Mr. de Mistura and his team are focusing on getting the talks ready to start on the 24th. We, obviously, I think as the Secretary‑General said himself just yesterday, it is also important to see confidence‑building measures ahead of the talks, like humanitarian access, to all those who need it, the 400,000 people who are in need of immediate humanitarian aid, both in rebel‑held areas, in areas controlled by armed groups, in areas controlled by extremist groups, and in areas controlled by the Government and its allies. As to the various opposition groups and delegations that will participate, I don't have anything to share with you at this point. Obviously, this is also a discussion led by members of the International Support Group for Syria, but we do very much hope that the talks will go ahead, and we're working full steam ahead. Mr. de Mistura's been in touch with the Russians and the Americans and other delegations, and I know he will be briefing the Council by VTC on Monday.
Question: Just to follow up quickly…
Question: Is there a good chance — I mean you mentioned possibility that the talks won't take place. I mean, is that a real possibility or it's just…
Spokesman: Did I mention that?
Question: I thought you somehow…
Spokesman: I don't think so. No, no. I mean, you know, as I said, days before these kinds of talks are always extremely tense and pressured. The date was announced for the 24th. We are working very much towards that date. Mr. Klein.
Question: Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on Iran's treatment of the ten American sailors who were seized and then released? And I'm talk… I'm thinking in terms specifically of their being photographed with their hands behind their heads, forced to their knees at gunpoint, what looked… appeared to be a coerced apology. And some have argued that this is a violation of the Geneva Convention. So does the Secretary‑General have any comment on that episode?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General is very much relieved that this particular incident was dealt with quickly and directly between the Governments of Iran and the United States and that everybody was released safe and sound.
Question: Stéph, I apologise if I missed this. Have you said anything about the Al-Shabaab attack in southwestern Somalia? Does the UN have any reaction at this stage?
Spokesman: No, I have not. We've obviously seen the reports. We're monitoring the situation. We obviously condemn the attack that took place on the camp of the African Union peacekeepers. I understand the majority of the victims were from, were Kenyan soldiers. We obviously send our condolences to the Government and to the people of Kenya and to any others that were also killed in the attack. Abdelhamid?
[The Spokesman’s office later issued the following statement: “The Secretary-General condemns the terrorist attack perpetrated by Al-Shabaab this morning against an AMISOM base in the town of El Adde, Gedo region in Somalia. Details of casualties are still being verified. The Secretary-General commends the efforts of AMISOM troops working for peace in Somalia. He affirms that this attack will not diminish the resolve of the United Nations to work hand in hand with the African Union and AMISOM to support the people and Government of Somalia.”]
Question: Thank you, and I'm sorry if you said… if you covered this before I came. I want to ask about Libya, and there is a meeting on the 19th in Rome, and is the UN involved in this meeting? Who's attending? What is the agenda of this meeting?
Spokesman: I will check. I will check for you. Masood?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On this situation in Yemen, the Secretary‑General made a very strong statement yesterday about Yemen and the human rights being violated over there. I mean, in a sense, how can the Secretary‑General [inaudible] of the Saudi Arabian Government to stop bombing which it has not despite all the…
Spokesman: I don't think the Secretary‑General could have been any clearer in his repeated condemnations of the civilian deaths that we have seen in Yemen, including those that come as a result of coalition bombings. I think he was very clear in his statement yesterday at the stakeout, and he's been very clear in those statements before. The continuing humanitarian disaster we're seeing unfold in Yemen, the continuing civilian deaths that we're seeing, should serve as a reminder to all the political leaders on all sides that they need to redouble their efforts and support the work of the UN Special Envoy and get the political talks back on track. The Envoy, Ismail, is now back in Riyadh, and he's speaking to officials there.
Question: So it is my understanding that the sanctions on Iran will be lifted after final IAEA report. Would you be able to talk about that when that happens?
Spokesman: Yes, my understanding from our colleagues in Vienna is there's some sort of a meeting tomorrow — there may be some sort of meeting tomorrow in Vienna after which, if everything goes well, we will issue a statement from the Secretary‑General over the weekend. Stay close to your phone. Luke.
Question: A logistical question. I'm wondering if the SG received any word from the P5+1 about whether this building would be used as an implementation ceremony for the Iranian JPCOA, which looks like it could be pretty soon.
Spokesman: Not that I'm aware. Mr. Lee.
Question: Sure. I wanted to… maybe this is an opportunity for you to wax poetic. I wanted to ask you about something in the Financial Times yesterday by their chief foreign affairs commentator where he said "During the nine years in which Ban Ki‑moon has been in charge, the organization has slipped to the sidelines of international politics… the UN badly needs new leadership." I assume you disagree, and so why?
Spokesman: I think, first of all, obviously, everyone's entitled to their opinion. Second of all, I think, just looking at what has happened in the last 12 months, whether it's the climate change agreement, whether it's the agreement on the Sustainable Development Goals, whether it's the agreement on financing for development in Ethiopia, whether it is the UN being in the lead on the discussions, the peace talks in Yemen, whether it's our work in Syria, our humanitarian work in Syria, the leadership role the United Nations took in fighting Ebola, I think, would be a complete rebuke to that article.
Question: I think just one… just one thing, because I think, those were all true. I think maybe… would you acknowledge that there's been a shift under Ban Ki‑moon's time from, from the UN being central in things like… I don't know… Middle East process, DPRK? It's not like Yemen is that much of a success. These are all like sort of maybe things ten years ago the UN wasn't involved in but…
Spokesman: A commentator is obviously an opinionator.
Spokesman: He's entitled to his opinion. I think if you look, as I said, to the issues that the UN has brought Member States together to deal with, critical issues — climate change, development, countering violent extremism — I think, to me, is a rebuke to that gentleman. On that note, I will leave you, and the President of the General Assembly will come.