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

26 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon — apologies for the delay.

**Middle East

The Secretary-General, as you know, just spoke to the Security Council today about the Middle East, and he informed Council members that 2016 has begun much like 2015 ended — with unacceptable levels of violence and a polarized public discourse across the spectrum in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  He once again condemned stabbings, vehicle attacks, and shootings by Palestinians targeting Israeli civilians, but he added that security measures alone will not stop the violence.  They cannot address the profound sense of alienation and despair driving some Palestinians — especially young people.

The Secretary-General said that he was deeply troubled by reports today that the Israeli Government had approved plans for over 150 new homes in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.  He said that recent settlement announcements are bound to increase the growth of settler population, further heightening tensions and undermining any prospects for a political road ahead.

He also asserted that incitement has no place and that questioning the right of Israel to exist cannot be tolerated.  His remarks are in my office.


And the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has addressed invitations to the Syrian participants today, as he said he would, and in accordance with the parameters outlined in Security Council resolution 2254 (2015). The intra-Syrian talks will start as of this Friday, 29 January, in Geneva.

Meanwhile, the Operations Director for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), John Ging, said today in Geneva that the failure in Syria is a political one — and not a failure by humanitarian workers, who continue to work bravely in facing the challenges on the ground.  He added that humanitarian workers are now looking, with great hope, for the current political process to deliver a solution that will end the conflict and put the Syrian people back on the right track.


And with no let-up of the fighting in Syria, UN humanitarian and development agencies in Iraq have appealed for $298 million in ongoing assistance for nearly 250,000 Syrian refugees in Iraq.  That appeal was made at the launch of the Iraq chapter of the Syria Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan in Erbil today.

The response [plan] for Iraq is committed to providing continued protection and assistance to Syrian refugees, to meet their basic needs.  It also recognizes the need to increase the resilience of refugees as well as host communities and calls for a greater investment in education and increased opportunities for vocational training and livelihoods.

Meanwhile, the Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Atul Khare, today wrapped up a three-day trip to Iraq.  He visited Baghdad, as well as Erbil, where he discussed key support issues with members of the host Government.  He also met with the UN Mission’s (UNAMI) senior management and held a town hall meeting with staff.


The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), together with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and dozens of other partners, issued an appeal in Geneva today for $550 million to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants in Europe.  Last year saw more than a million people arriving to Europe by boat, most of whom crossed from Turkey to Greece.  The vast majority of these people came from the world's top ten refugee-producing countries, mainly Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.  Today, the appeal seeks to fund humanitarian operations in 2016 across the affected European countries, with approximately half of the money allocated to Greece.


UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) is launching a $2.8 billion appeal today to reach 43 million children in humanitarian emergencies worldwide.  For the first time ever, the largest portion of the appeal — 25 per cent — is going towards educating children in emergencies.  UNICEF plans to dramatically increase the number of children in crises who are given access to education — from 4.9 million at the beginning of 2015 to 8.2 million in 2016.  More than half of these children — that’s 5 million — will be Syrian children inside the country or in neighbouring countries.


Yesterday, you would have seen, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution requesting the establishment of a UN political mission in Colombia.  In a statement, the Secretary-General welcomed the adoption and said that he will initiate preparations, including on the ground, so that this political mission can be fully operational when the final peace agreement is signed.

In this context, he has also requested Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman, who is representing him at the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) to be held in Quito [Ecuador] later this week, to engage with the Members of the regional body on their contributions to the UN mission.  The Secretary-General also met with Colombia’s Foreign Minister [María Angela Holguín] following the Security Council’s meeting and a readout of this meeting is available online.


I was also asked about the situation in Nepal, and what I can say is that the Secretary-General welcomes parliamentary action to amend the Constitution as an important step in resolving differences on the constitutional arrangement.  He encourages all parties to exercise maximum flexibility in resolving remaining issues by dialogue.

The Secretary-General hopes that current positive developments could help normalise passage of supplies at Nepal’s border points and refocus attention to address urgent reconstruction and other needs.  The Secretary-General also reiterates his calls for restraint and non-violence from all sides, and a redoubling of efforts at peaceful dialogue and inclusive democratic processes.


And with the Zika virus now circulating in 18 countries and territories of Latin America and the Caribbean, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is mobilizing teams of international experts to help member countries prepare for outbreaks.  Growing evidence suggests that the virus may be linked to microcephaly in newborns.

Zika is transmitted primarily by Aedes mosquitos, which also transmit chikungunya and dengue viruses and which are present in every country of the Americas, except Canada and continental Chile.

Only one in four people infected with Zika virus develops symptoms, but it can sometimes cause serious complications in those who are infected.  In Brazil, where Zika was first confirmed in May 2015, more than 3,500 suspected cases of microcephaly have been reported in areas where the virus is circulating; more information online.

**Honour Roll

And I am pleased to announce today that four countries — Dominican Republic, Georgia, Ireland and Kuwait — have paid their budget dues in full for 2016, bringing the total number of paid-up Member States to… 15… Close enough.

**Press Conferences

Tomorrow, two things I want to flag — at 12:30 p.m. our guest will be Nickolay Mladenov, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.  

And at 1:15 p.m., in this room, there will be a press conference on the Investor Summit on Climate Risk.  And the briefers will include Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); Thomas DiNapoli, the Comptroller  for New York State; Michael Liebreich, Founder and Chairman of the Advisory Board of Bloomberg New Energy Finance; and Philippe Desfosses, who heads up the French civil servants pension plan [fund].

**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thanks, Steph.  First of all, on Syria, of course, anything else you can give us on who the invitations went to, particularly who makes up the opposition list?  And secondly, does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to this new action by the Danish Parliament regarding the refugees and migrants?

Spokesman:  On the… on your first question, no, unfortunately, nothing more to share.  I think all the information and details will come out of Geneva and Mr. de Mistura's team.  I think the situation is, obviously, fast evolving, and they will be speaking out on that.  On the issue of the Danish Parliament, we've obviously seen the reports at its… of this law.  I think what… our reaction would be that, I think people who have suffered tremendously, who have escaped war and conflict, who have literally walked hundreds, if not thousands, of… hundreds of kilometres, if not more, and put their lives at risk by crossing the Mediterranean, should be treated with compassion and respect and within their full rights as refugees, as called by the 1951 Convention.  Masood?

Question:  [inaudible] Syrian talks, any update on that?

Spokesman:  No, Masood.  I think Maggie just asked the same question.  So no.  Okay.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  No, as I said, the updates will really come out of Geneva.  As I said, it's… I think Mr. de Mistura said it would be lots of ups and downs and posturings and so forth, so we will let him and his team do the speaking, as they are the closest to the action.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  Some other questions, but maybe you'll have something on this.  In the Central African Republic, the legislative elections were declared invalid by the court there.  And given the UN's involvement in it, what's the response to the ruling, and logistically, what's the UN going to do to see if they can be held again?

Spokesman:  Sure.  You know, obviously, we've obviously seen that report and [are] following the situation closely.  Our understanding is that the final ruling, formal decision, is still pending.  But, of course, the international community, including the UN Mission in that country, is engaging with the Central African authorities on the next steps, and our colleagues in the peacekeeping mission report that the security situation in Bangui remains calm at this point.

Question:  And… and… it's related to CAR and other missions.  The… the… that Code Blue campaign of AIDS‑Free World has proposed… they say in the run‑up to the Secretary‑General responding to the [Marie] Deschamps report, that an external independent management board be established to deal with all allegations of sexual abuse concerning any part of the UN system.  What… what… one, do you have any response to such an idea?  And, two, when is the Secretary‑General's response to the Deschamps report actually going to come out?

Spokesman:  It should be coming out in the not‑too‑distant future.  I think, whether it's us and Code Blue, I think we all have the same aim, and that is to see an end to any abuses committed by peacekeepers, whether they are under UN command or not, and that, if they do occur, if they, unfortunately, are committed, that there is full accountability for the victims of such crimes.  I haven't seen the details of what they're proposing, but what is clear is that the fight against sexual abuse by peacekeepers is not one that the Secretariat can do alone.  I think we have stressed… the Secretary‑General has made it clear that there will be no tolerance for any such acts.  He has made this the highest priority for the Secretariat.  But the fight demands the full involvement and support of Member States and troop-contributing-countries.  The Secretary‑General has been delivering that message, I think, very directly and forcefully to those groups.  They are also… same as… can be… same is being done by heads of DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) and DFS (Department of Field Support).  We're engaging with Member States and with troop contributors.  It's something that we all need to work through at the same time.  And, in the meantime, you know, even… we have continuously been strengthening our procedures to either prevent but also to allow victims to come forward in full confidence.

Question:  Just one thing if you don't mind… just directly on this just to finish… on the conference call that they had, Code Blue's Paula Donovan said that OLA (Office of Legal Affairs), the head of OLA, has indicated that… that immunity was never meant to cover crimes and that immunity does not… the moment a crime is asserted, a crime is alleged, immunity will not attach.  Is that… I was a little surprised to hear that.  Is that OLA's position?

Spokesman:  Well, the… I don't know what… who… what she's quoting and so forth, but what is clear is that immunity is not there to protect people who have committed crimes, and if crimes are committed, immunity will be lifted.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  Thank you.  One is a follow‑up very briefly on Syria, and, in addition to the list of opposition representatives, there was also a list that I thought Jordan was helping to compile of designated terrorist organizations.  So I'd like to know where that stands and whether both lists are going to be put up on UN website.  And my second question relates to Libya.  What is… what next steps are being contemplated in light of the apparent rejection of the UN‑backed cabinet by the Libyan parliament that's internationally recognized?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Well, you know, Libya, my understanding is that it was not a rejection of the plan… the slate was not approved.  There will be another vote.  Obviously, it's a momentary setback, but I think the… it is clear that, in principle, the parties in Libya agree to the plan.  Now they have to agree on a slate of leaders, and we hope that happens as soon as possible.  On your second question, I think the work you're referring to by Jordan was being done under the… as part of the work of the International Support Group for Syria.  As I said, I don't really have any more details to share with you on the talks and the process.  That will be done through my colleagues in Geneva.  Sylviane, then Evelyn?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  There is a report that reporter and there is a threat, very dangerous threat, that Da’esh, or ISIS, is threatening to blow up the Euphrates Dam in the north of Syria.  That would be a real concern on water and electricity supply in Syria and Iraq.  What can the UN or the UN friends do to prevent such an attack?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Obviously, that… this sort of act would be a humongous tragedy.  We have always supported actions against Da’esh and the fight against extremist groups, which need to be done within the framework of international humanitarian law and human rights law.  Evelyn then Olga then Abdelhamid.  And then we'll go to round 2.

Question:  Okay.  Is there any update on aid convoys going to the besieged Syrian towns?

Spokesman:  No. I have no update for you.

Question:  Samantha Power this morning blamed it, most of the delays on the Syrian Government.

Spokesman:  I think, as we've said before, the processes through which we have to get humanitarian convoys in is extremely complicated.  It involves, obviously, the Syrian Government.  It involves armed groups on the ground.  It involves ensuring the safety of the dedicated Syrian humanitarian workers that are in… it's very complicated, and I think we have repeatedly and we'll continue to repeat that all parties need to do whatever they can to allow for the free flow of humanitarian goods into areas that need them.  Olga?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On Colombia, you said Secretary‑General initiated the preparation of work on the ground for the Mission.  Who will be the head of the Mission?

Spokesman:  That will be revealed very shortly.

Question:  So it will be the new appointment?

Spokesman:  It will be a new appointment, yes.  It will be a new appointment.

Correspondent:  Colombia?

Spokesman:  Colombia.  Yes, it will go through the Security… usual procedure with the Security Council.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Abdelhamid then Linda.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions, one on Libya and one on Palestine.  And on Libya, there was a vote on Article 8 of the political agreement.  Article 8 designated power to appoint military staff and the security apparatus under the Presidential Council.  So does the UN have a position on that?  Because that is the stumbling point to approve the whole…

Spokesman:  We very much hope that those representatives, those people who are voting will come to an agreement and come to a compromise.  I think this is a time for compromise from all the Libyan parties.  Second question?

Question:  The second question is, on last Sunday's cabinet meeting, Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu announced openly that he's supportive of extend… expanding settlement activities in what he called Judea and Samaria, which means the occupied West Bank.  And since then, there were also more decisions to expand on settlement activities, but there was no reaction from the UN. 

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, with all due respect, I would encourage you to take the time to read the statement the Secretary‑General delivered…

Question:  I did, sir.

Spokesman:  …less than an hour ago, and I think it's pretty clear where we stand on the issues of settlements and…

Question:  That statement referred to confiscating 370 acres is Jerusalem.  And he expressed concern only.  He didn't deplore and he didn't…

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General's stand against the growth of settlements in the occupied West Bank, I think, could not be clearer to me.  I hope it is as clear to you.  Masood?  Sorry, Linda, did you ask a question?  No.  Go ahead.  Sorry.  Keep going, those who haven't had a chance to ask.  Go ahead, Linda.  I apologize.

Question:  No problem.  Following up on the question regarding the delays in delivery of humanitarian aid in Syria, you mentioned, of course, the Government is obstructing the delivery.  But, in addition, you also mentioned armed groups.  Can you share with us about who these armed groups are these days?  Is it al‑Nusra?

Spokesman:  I think, you know, depending on the towns, there are different armed groups, and I think when you come… when it comes to actually delivering the aid, you also sometimes… our colleagues also sometimes find themselves faced with men who are armed, and they're mostly… I would say the vast majority are men, who are armed, whose affiliation may not be that clear.  So negot… it is in part negotiating with whomever we need to negotiate, recognize groups, quote‑unquote.  And then sometimes just what I may call, you know, pop‑up checkpoints, and that's why I think we talked… the trip… I think Yacoub [El Hillo] said the trip from Damascus to Madaya should have taken an hour and took almost 9 to 12 hours.  Go ahead. 

Question:  I'd like to ask you about all these appeals going towards educating children, Syrian children, in the three neighbouring countries.  So we had Gordon Brown appealing for 750 million [dollars].  And now, if I did the math right, UNICEF is apply… appealing for 410 million to do the same, educate Syrian refugee children in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.  Now, I've asked UNICEF.  I've asked Gordon Brown, a campaign that I really haven't gotten an answer.  Is there an overlap between these appeals?

Spokesman:  No, I don't think… you know, I think the situation is different in each country.  In Lebanon, the vast majority of the refugees are living in communities.  And that's where Gordon Brown is really focusing and opening up schools for what he calls a second shift.  For UNICEF, it's a broader campaign about also educating children within the camps and with other… in other communities.  But I will get on the phone with my colleagues to help you get a little more clarity, which hopefully I will also get.  Sylviane and then Masood?

Question:  Do you have any readout of the visit of Mrs. Sigrid Kaag to Iran on Sunday?

Spokesman:  No, I do not, but I will ask.  [He later shared the following press release issued on Monday:  The United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Ms. Sigrid Kaag, yesterday (Sunday) met with Iranian Government officials in Tehran.  The Special Coordinator discussed the political situation in Lebanon, regional developments which impact Lebanon and efforts to promote stability and security in the country.  During the visit to Tehran, Ms. Kaag also met with representatives of the diplomatic community.  The mission to Iran took place as part of the Special Coordinator’s ongoing consultations with regional stakeholders.]  Masood?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Once again, I will ask this follow‑up question on Palestine.  Has the Secretary‑General talked to Prime Minister Netanyahu at all about these things?  Because the Middle East peace process is down in the dumps in any case.  So has he talked at all to him?

Spokesman:  The… every time the Secretary‑General has met with the Prime Minister, he has raised it, and I think the Secretary‑General's position has also been transmitted very clearly by his representative on the ground, Nikolay Mladenov, to his interlocutors in the Israeli Government.  Sylviane?

Question:  But he has not spoken to him lately.

Spokesman:  Every time he's met him… I can find out the date of their last contact.  Sylviane?

Question:  I know you're going to…

Spokesman:  Sorry.  You asked… go ahead.  Yeah, go ahead.

Question:  Sylviane.  Okay.  I didn't raise my hand but I have a question anyway.  [laughter]

Spokesman:  Is it Friday yet?

Question:  It's about the readout with Mrs. Sigrid Kaag with the Saudis.  Did you have anything for that?

Spokesman:  I will try to get you a holistic readout of Ms. Kaag's activities.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask about Burundi and South Sudan.  And on Burundi, as I'm… the… they read out in Geneva that the experts that were supposed to go there under the Human Rights Council resolution, including Mr. [Christof] Heyns, Mr. [Pablo] de Greiff, have not been able to get in.  No… it was… I guess I wanted to ask, what… is the Special Adviser involved in this issue at all given that he's… he has a team that was announced on the ground?  What has been the response he's gotten from the Burundian authorities to this Human Rights Council team going?

Spokesman:  Obviously, the Human Rights Council team is an independent team.  That being said, it is incumbent on every Member State to cooperate with Special Rapporteurs, investigators from ad hoc investigative commissions set up by the Human Rights Council as part of the broader UN human rights architecture.  So we would expect that they be allowed in.

Question:  But is… does Mr. [Jamal] Benomar's mission have a human rights component to it or no?

Spokesman:  There are Human Rights… the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has representatives on the ground.  And obviously, as part of the broader mission of Mr. Benomar, human rights are an important factor.

Question:  On South Sudan, I wanted to know… I'd seen, you know, the statement by the Secretary‑General about the 28‑state, I mean, proposal or reality.  But I've heard there now that the UN is beginning to cooperate with the 28‑state map, meaning that for flights they now register them as within a 28 system… state system.  They fill out custom forms in that way.  Does this mean that the UN has accepted the 28 states?  What’s the position?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I have no particular information on that.

Question:  And on the currency?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  On the currency, as I said, I have no update, but you're welcome to call the Mission directly.  They have a fantastic PIO (public information) team.

Correspondent:  All right.

Spokesman:  Thank you, all.  Evelyn?  Sorry.

Question:  Yeah, sorry.  Just one question:  Is there any sign of a resolution on the Middle East coming up in the Security Council?  Is the SG pushing for one?  Because the conversation keeps repeating itself.

Spokesman:  Well, I think the… the… I won't disagree with you on that.  I think the Secretary‑General's always called for unity on the Council, on the Middle East.  As to what the res… if and when there will be a resolution, that's something to ask the presidency.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.