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

25 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.

**South Sudan

We will start off with a statement on South Sudan.  The Secretary-General expresses his concern over the parties’ deadlock over the issue of the establishment of 28 states, and their failure to meet the 22 January deadline to establish the Transitional Government of National Unity in South Sudan.  He stresses that the formation of the Transitional Government is an essential step in implementing the peace [agreement] and laying the foundation for peace and stability in South Sudan.

The Secretary-General calls on the parties to overcome their differences.  He encourages the IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority for Development] and the African Union member States to seize the opportunity of the forthcoming African Union summit to address the political impasse that is impeding the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity.  The Secretary-General reaffirms that the United Nations will continue to do all it can to support the people of South Sudan who continue to be subjected to unimaginable suffering and human rights abuses, as they have been since the beginning of the conflict over two years ago.  That statement should now be online.

Also on South Sudan, the UN Mission in [in South Sudan] (UNMISS) reports that the situation in Yambio remained relatively calm but tense this weekend.  Peacekeepers on patrol on Saturday observed the town to be largely deserted, although some shops appeared to be open.  As of last evening, there were approximately 7,000 civilians seeking shelter at the compound of a non-governmental organization in Yambio.  The Mission’s military and police peacekeepers are providing perimeter security to the area where they have gathered.  The Mission also continues to conduct patrols and monitor the situation in Yambio town as part of the protection of civilians’ mandate.

**Security Council

As you know, the Security Council will meet on Colombia at 3 p.m. this afternoon.  But before that, this morning, the Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, briefed the Security Council on the situation in Darfur.  He said that the United Nations remains committed to developing the exit strategy of the African Union – UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) on the basis of concrete and tangible achievements against benchmarks.

He said that he looks forward to the full commitment of the Government of Sudan in making measurable progress against those key benchmarks, such as the cessation of hostilities, inclusive peace process, unhindered access and movement of UN and humanitarian personnel, as the starting point for further discussions on the phased drawdown of the Mission.  Mr. Ladsous also reiterated his concern about the impact of the renewed upsurge in fighting on the civilian population in Jebel Marra, and he expressed hope that the cessation of hostilities negotiations will come to a positive conclusion and bring an end to the suffering of the population.  The full remarks of Mr. Ladsous are available in my office.

**Darfur

Meanwhile, on the ground, the African Union-United Nations [Hybrid Operation] in Darfur (UNAMID) says that it remains engaged with the ongoing displacements and serious humanitarian consequences caused by the fighting between Government forces and armed movements in Jebel Marra, in Central Darfur.

Some 8,403 affected civilians, mostly women and children, have taken refuge in the vicinity of the Mission’s Sortoni camp site, in North Darfur.  According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 2,385 people have also been displaced [to] Tawila, North Darfur.  UNAMID is working with the UN country team and other national and international non-governmental organizations to protect the displaced in Sortoni, Tawila and Nertiti and provide emergency humanitarian relief to them.

**Secretary-General Travels

Travel of the Secretary-General to announce:  on 28 January, the Secretary-General will leave New York for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to attend the twenty-sixth African Union Summit.  He will then proceed to Muscat, in Oman, for an official visit to the country on 1 and 2 February.  And from there, he will attend the fourth Syria Donors Conference which is being held in London.

In Addis Ababa, the Secretary-General will address the twenty-sixth Ordinary Session of the AU on 30 January, and he will hold bilateral meetings with Heads of States and other high officials.  The theme of the Summit is: “2016:  African Year of Human Rights with Particular Focus on the Rights of Women”.

On 31 January, in the evening, the Secretary-General will leave Addis for Muscat, Oman, to deliver a lecture at the College of National Defense.  He is also scheduled to meet with the Deputy Prime Minister for the Council of Ministers, and the Minister responsible for Foreign Affairs in Oman.

On 2 February, the Secretary-General will leave Muscat for London to participate in the conference on the Syria humanitarian crisis hosted by the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway, [Kuwait] and the United Nations.  Building on previous conferences in Kuwait, this event aims to raise significant new funding to meet the needs of all those affected by the Syria crisis, identify long-term funding solutions and address longer-term needs.  The Secretary-General will be back in New York on 6 February.

**Syria

As you will have seen, Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, told reporters in Geneva today that, due to intense disagreements about who would be invited to the intra-Syrian talks, the start of the talks, scheduled for today, has been delayed.  He said that invitations will be sent tomorrow, and that the talks will start on 29 January, this Friday.  He said that the priority for the talks would be the establishment of a broad ceasefire and the delivery of humanitarian aid, as well as stopping the threat posed by Da’esh.

Mr. de Mistura said that the meetings will start with proximity talks, which are expected to last for six months. The first phase of the talks could last two to three weeks, he added, before preparations are made for further phases. Although there could always be posturing or walk-outs, he said, the important thing will be to maintain the momentum of the process set during the meetings in Vienna.  The full press conference is available for you to see on the webtv.un.org page.

The UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown has warned that 2.5 million children could be displaced as refugees from Syria by the end of 2016, adding that the only way to ensure they remain in the region is to provide stability through a new plan for double-shift education.

Under that system, local children would be schooled in the mornings and early afternoons, and refugee boys and girls would be using the same classrooms in late afternoon and early evening.  The plan will cost an initial $750 million, but $500 million has already been raised through offers of grants or loans from countries and businesses.  Mr. Brown said that was an important way of dealing with the biggest refugee crisis since the end of the Second World War.

**Ukraine

The World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that it will extend its emergency operation in eastern Ukraine to provide food to more than 260,000 people affected by conflict until the end of June.  WFP aims to provide food to families during the critical cold period between January and April.  Priority will be given to the most vulnerable and food insecure among internally displaced people, returnees and conflict-affected residents, as well as households headed by women.  More information on WFP’s website.

**Nigeria and Central African Republic

The UN refugee agency and its partners called today on donor nations for more than half-a-billion dollars this year to help hundreds of thousands of people forced to flee conflicts in Nigeria and the Central African Republic and the host communities providing them with shelter and other basic services.  Two Regional Refugee Response Plans, presented at a donor briefing in Yaoundé, in Cameroon, included almost $200 million for 230,000 Nigerian refugees, as well as $345 million for refugees from the Central African Republic.  More information on UNHCR’s webpage.

**Haiti

On Haiti, you will have seen that over the weekend we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General strongly urged all to work towards the peaceful completion of the electoral process without delay.  He also urged all political actors to reject all forms of violence and intimidation and refrain from any action that can further disrupt the democratic process and stability in Haiti.

 

**Climate

According to our colleagues at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), 2015 was the hottest year on record.  It noted that 15 of the 16 hottest years on record have all been in this century, with the five-year period from 2011 to 2015 being the warmest ever.  The Head of WMO, Petteri Taalas, said that if commitments made during the climate change negotiations in Paris and furthermore a higher emission reduction ambition level is reached, we still have chance to stay within the maximum 2°C limit.  More on WMO’s webpage.

**Obesity

The World Health Organization (WHO) is telling us that the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity presented its final report to the Director-General of WHO, Dr. Margaret Chan, culminating a two-year process to address the alarming levels of childhood obesity and overweight globally.  The report proposes a range of recommendations for governments aimed at reversing the rising trend of children aged under 5 years becoming overweight and obese.  Worldwide obesity has more than doubled since 1980 — reaching 600 million people.  In 2013, 42 million children under the age of 5 were either overweight or obese.

**Press Encounter Today

Lastly, around 4:15 p.m. this afternoon, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, María Ángela Holguín Cuéllar, and the President of the Security Council, Ambassador Elbio Rosselli of Uruguay, will be speaking to you, the reporters, at the Security Council Stakeout.  Sir?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  Last night, Saudi‑led airstrikes in Sana'a targeted the house of a judge called Mr. Rubaid.  He and six of his family members were killed in that attack.  What do you think about targeting judges' homes?

Spokesman:  I think we have, since the beginning, have been very clear in our call for all the parties involved in this conflict to avoid targeting civilians, civilian infrastructure, and to observe international humanitarian law and to make sure that civilians are spared.  We are seeing, as the weeks and the days go on, an increasing number of civilians being killed and humanitarian access being restricted, and that's why we would again encourage all the parties to do whatever they can to support the efforts of the Secretary‑General's Special Envoy.

Correspondent:  But, this particular attack, it seemed aimed at large house; it's a well‑known place in Sana'a.  This is targeting of civilians and also…

Spokesman:  I think, as I've said, we have denounced and decried the targeting of civilians and the attacks on civilians.  Fathi.

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Stéphane.  Libya.  The internationally organized Libyan parliament met in Tobruk, and they have not endorsed the proposed Government by the Presidential Council in Tunisia based on the different parties' agreement brokered by the UN.  What's the Secretary‑General remark on that?  And what will be the following step in order to deter further deteriorations taking place in Libya at this moment?

Spokesman:  Obviously, we're following the situation in the parliament very closely.  The details of what has happened in parliament are still coming in.  We're continuing to monitor them.  There have been reports that the House of Representatives held multiple votes, including one on the agreement and one on the list of nominees for the Government of National Accord.  But, our indication is that they voted in favour of the agreement with some conditions with the call of the Presidency of the Council to propose a new Government.  Another session of the House of Representatives, as we understand it, is expected tomorrow.  The UN mission will continue to monitor the developments and provide any necessary support so that the agreement can continue to be implemented.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  I want to ask about Burundi, but just I mean, on that, AP is reporting that it was… that the… the agreement was rejected by 84 votes out of 140 and that the… the… you know, the Government…

Spokesman:  I understand.  As I said, things are still coming in.  I can share you what our indications are.  I think we're obviously… we need to let the process play out and see what the details actually are.

Question:  Okay.  I wanted to ask you, on Burundi, the… the… obviously, the trip took place.  Just now at the stakeout UK [United Kingdom] Ambassador [Matthew] Rycroft said we didn't get a huge amount out of the trip.  And I'm wondering, does the Secretariat or Mr. Benomar have any comment on what was or wasn't achieved?  And just more nitty‑gritty, I wanted to ask you, I did notice that your office or the UN put up three parts of stakeouts that took place in Bujumbura.  I guess I wanted to know, they seem to cut off… there seems… like, I know that Pierre Nkurunziza spoke.  I know that there was a much longer statement by the French ambassador that was put online.  Who decided to put 16 seconds online rather than the full stakeout?

Spokesman:  I think that's the video we received from our colleagues in Bujumbura.  It's not up to us to put up video of the President or anyone else who is not involved who is not directly part of the UN mission.  We're there to cover the UN mission.  As far as the other ambassadors, we put up what we received.

Question:  But, I mean, because I'm saying, I've seen… I've seen video of Ambassador Lamek speaking at great length, and you have 16 seconds.  Is that…?

Spokesman:  Perhaps it was a different…

Question:  Who decides…?

Spokesman:  …perhaps there was a different… perhaps there was a different stakeout or so on.

Question:  Okay.  Is there any comment on… I guess more substantively on…?

Spokesman:  Obviously, on the trip, we will let the ambassadors report back when they report back officially to the Security Council.  I think the trip by the Security Council delegation underscores the critical situation in Burundi and underscores the international community's commitment to ensure and to do whatever it can to restart the political process and ensure calm in the country.  Olga?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Staffan de Mistura said that the talks on Syria will last, like, six months and the first stage around three weeks.  Any plans for Secretary‑General to join in any stage if necessary?

Spokesman:  Not at this point, but, obviously, should it be necessary for the Secretary‑General to join, he would, he would.  But, there are no plans as of yet.  Oleg and then Majeed.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Any updates to list of the countries that are past dues?  We were told by the PGA [President of the General Assembly] Spokesperson that Iran already paid during the weekend.  Anybody else?

Spokesman:  No, we did not get an update this morning from our colleagues in the accounts department.  But, I will check right after the briefing.

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Spokesman:  No, hold on.

Question:  Before Ban Ki‑moon provides this list to the Member States, does he contact the Member States listed in it?  Does he ask them to pay their dues in full?

Spokesman:  I think they, there is a system through which Member States are notified.  I think all Member States… it is very clear to all Member States what their bill is, to put it simply, and when it's due.

Question:  [Inaudible] follow‑up… same issue.  Venezuela, which is a member of the Security Council, is also one of the countries that have not fulfilled its financial obligations.  How's going to be their situation, and with regard to their votings in the Council, will their vote in the Council be suspended in line with the same rule that applies in the General Assembly for those countries who are delayed in [inaudible] dues?

Spokesman:  That is a very valid question.  Before I attempt to answer it, I will need to get some guidance, because there are different stages through which Member States are not allowed to vote in the General Assembly, but I will check on this particular case.  Majeed.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I want to ask a question about the seem‑to‑be‑forgotten issue of the migrant crisis.  Just like last Friday, about 60 people have drowned in the sea trying to leave Turkey to Greece.  I don't know if you saw those reports and what is the UN's take on that specific incident?  It was very circulated in local media in Turkey and in Iraq.  And my second question is more in general, the EU is now discussing new measures, very immediate measures, about the migrants.  As a humanitarian situation, has the… they're looking for solutions.  Has the UN proposed any solutions for the EU leadership?  What is the UN's role in all this?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, obviously, I think the refugee crisis is far from being forgotten.  We're obviously very saddened by the reports of the continued loss of life that we're seeing in the eastern Mediterranean.  Of course, the first, the most important step in stopping this flow is to stop the war in Syria, and that's what we're… obviously, as you know, Mr. de Mistura is very much focused on.  I think there are different parts to your question.  Obviously, the EU is trying to deal with some of its own issues, including internal border control.  The important thing from the UN standpoint is that refugees and migrants are treated with dignity and full respect of their rights, their humanitarian... their human rights and the rights afforded to refugees under the 1951 Convention.  On a larger scale, as you will know, the Secretary‑General appointed a few day ago Karen AbuZayd as his Special Adviser to work on the summit for addressing large movements of refugees and migrants.  This will be an issue that she is discussing with Member States.  Obviously, it will be a big focus of the Syria conference, the Syria donor's conference, that we're seeing in London in early February.  The UN is working with Member States on a roadmap on how to address what we're seeing, which is the largest flow of refugees and migrants since 1945.  It needs to be done in a holistic manner.  It involves countries of destinations, countries of transit, countries of origin.  It involves dealing with the root causes, the conflict, and the root causes of those conflicts, including social inequality issues having to do with governance.  It's something that needs to be dealt with holistically, and the United Nations, the Secretary‑General is very much committed in working with Member States in dealing with this issue.  Yes, sir, and then we'll go to Go.

Question:  Yesterday, Jordan declared that they have shot dead 12 who were attempting to cross the border from Syria into Jordan without specifying whether they are armed groups or whether they are simple immigrants.  Do you have any particular…?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen that particular report.  We will obviously look into it.  But, I don't want to, I don't want to comment on it without seeing the details.

Question:  [Inaudible] Bahrain today announced sentences of 15 years for over 40 political prisoners or people who were protesting.  And also they are, they want to try Sheikh Ali Salman for tweeting on Twitter after he's been in jail for over a year now.  Do you have any statement on that?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General has in the past and will continue to make his concerns known on the human rights situation in Bahrain.  Go?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) had asked Secretary‑General to present some options for the ceasefire monitoring systems.  Is he supposed to present it soon or…?

Spokesman:  I mean, obviously, we're looking at all various options, but the focus right now is on getting the ceasefire.  As I think Mr. de Mistura said, that will be the first item on the agenda of the talks and to see a stop to the violence.  Mr. Lee and then Linda.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, thanks for the update on South Sudan.  I wanted to ask… there seems to be and you may be aware of this, some controversy.  Workers, staff in South Sudan of the UN have threatened to go on strike because their pay was essentially cut by 80 per cent given the devaluation of the South Sudanese pound.  And then I was told today that they were orally told they're going to be told… paid from now on not in dollars but in this devalued South Sudanese pound.  Where does this stand, and how does it impact the UN's ability to provide services there? 

Spokesman:  This is something the Mission is dealing with locally.  We often find ourselves in situations, since we pay the local staff in local currency, of having to do with currency devaluation, and I'm sure the issue will be worked out.

Correspondent:  But, here I was told that they were getting paid in dollars and I believe the government has told the UN to stop doing that.

Spokesman:  As I said, I will see what we can find out.

Question:  Also, in Sri Lanka, since, again, given the Secretary‑General's long involvement in this issue, a journalist who went into exile based on death threats.  Sasi Karam Puni Maruthi has returned and, upon his arrival, was arrested by the government.  It's a little unclear… basically it seems like arresting a journalist for what he wrote.  Is this something that DPA [Department of Political Affairs] or peacebuilding…

Spokesman:  I will look into it.  I had not seen that report.  Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Following up on the refugee crisis, you mentioned that the asylum seekers are, treatment of asylum seekers is governed by the 1951 Convention.  I was just wondering if the UN has a policy regarding the… you know, the evaluation, perhaps, that they are not refugees but economic migrants and how they should be treated and how they should be returned to their country of origin.

Spokesman:  I think, obviously, there is a screening procedure that goes, that goes into place.  I think if people who are economic migrants and who are returned, we have to ensure that the return is done according with human rights and in respect of people's dignity, which we haven't always, which we haven't always seen.  And there also needs to be an open and good dialogue and working relationship between the country in which these migrants have landed and the countries in which they return to, to ensure the transfer is done in full respect of their rights and dignity.

Question:  Just a follow‑up?  Sorry.  How large a process has this been in terms of the UN's role in, you know, trying to return these migrants?  In other words, how many people are we generally talking about?

Spokesman:  The UN is not responsible for returning, returning economic migrants to their, to their countries of origin.  Oleg.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane, again.  On Ukraine, there was an announcement by the Prime Minister of Ukraine that there is a need for a referendum for constitutional reform in Ukraine.  And there's a big debate whether it's actually in line with the Minsk agreements.  Should it be done?  How it should be done?  Is there any reaction from the UN side on this?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No, not at this point.

Question:  [Inaudible] Mr. de Mistura as persona non grata and that they don't want him to visit Saudi Arabia anymore.  How will that affect the negotiations in Vienna?

Spokesman:  I have not seen that particular report.  Obviously, Saudi Arabia is a key partner in the Syrian peace process, and Mr. de Mistura, I know, has been there quite often, and we very much hope that a good and positive and engaged dialogue can continue between Syria… between Saudi Arabia and Mr. de Mistura.

Question:  I have another question.  When Mr. Ban was in Abu Dhabi, did he meet Sheikh Khalifa, the Amir?

Spokesman:  Let me check.  I'm not aware that he did. Mr. Lee.Question:  Are you aware… sorry… about the rumours that Sheikh Khalifa has been deposed?

Spokesman:  No.  Matthew?

Question:  Okay.  Something a little different.  I wanted to ask you about recycling at the UN.  I noticed that these cans that are, that exist that have circles for glass and plastic, paper and waste, when you look into them, there's just one bag.  So, it seems like it's all mixed, and it's not actually being separated or recycled.  Is that true?  And if so, what's the point of having the separation?

Spokesman:  Well, if you've seen it, I have no doubt that it's true.  I can look into the situation and… I can look further into the garbage recycling issue.

Question:  I think the question really is, is it misleading to pretend to be recycling if you're not?  If you're just not, just say you're not.

Spokesman:  I think anybody can look, when you throw something into the garbage, anybody can look and see what's going on.  On that note, I'm going to have lunch.

For information media. Not an official record.