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

27 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.

**Holocaust

The Secretary-General just earlier today spoke at the General Assembly event marking the international day of commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, and he paid respects to the 6 million Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust, as well as the millions of others who were killed alongside them.  The Secretary-General said that the Holocaust was a colossal crime and that the evidence is irrefutable.  Those who deny it only perpetuate falsehoods and make a mockery of the pain.  Yet, today, he said, we continue to see hurtful efforts to question the reality and the scale of this tragedy.  The Secretary-General said that he was profoundly disappointed to learn of another so-called “Holocaust cartoon contest” being planned this year in Iran.

He warned that today, international humanitarian law is being flouted on a global scale and that the international community is failing to hold perpetrators to account.  Today, he said, we see actions of Da’esh that may amount to grave crimes against minority groups such as the Yazidis.  And the conflict in Syria has generated the worst humanitarian crisis of our time, with the village of Madaya for example becoming a scene of shocking suffering. He once more reminded all parties that starvation as a weapon of war is a war crime.  His remarks are available online.  If somebody could shut off those chimes, that would be wonderful.

**Syria

Also on the humanitarian front, Stephen O’Brien, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefed the Security Council this morning on humanitarian access in Syria.  He said that the recent pictures of emaciated, starving children in the besieged town of Madaya seemingly shocked the collective conscience of the world.  At the same time, humanitarian deliveries to besieged towns have recently delivered desperately needed food, medical and other aid sufficient for one month for over 60,000 people in total.

Mr. O’Brien said that we urgently need to get more medical supplies and teams into Madaya, since the last time the Syrian Arab Red Crescent was able to enter with supplies and teams was 15 January.  Many of those remaining in the town need treatment where they are rather than evacuation, and we do not know if there are others that may require evacuation.

Ertharin Cousin, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), also briefed the Council and said that more than 4.5 million people are trapped in besieged or hard to reach areas in Syria.  WFP’s food security analysis suggests that 2.5 million people are severely food insecure.  Every day, the agency receives alarming reports of lack of food, lack of water, acute malnutrition, and death.  We expect Mr. O’Brien and Ms. Cousin to be speaking probably very soon if not right now at the stakeout.  Earlier, the Security Council also extended sanctions on the Central African Republic for one year.

**Climate

Earlier today, the Secretary-General also spoke at the Investor Summit on Climate Risk.  He said that he has invited all heads of State and Government to a signing ceremony for the Paris Agreement on 22 April.  The Secretary-General also stressed that to keep global temperature rise well below 2°C, we must begin the shift away from fossil fuels immediately and we need a massive scaling up of investments in clean energy and energy efficiency.

The Secretary-General said that investors and businesses that redirect resources to low-carbon, climate-resilient growth will be the economic powerhouses of the twenty-first century, with those failing to do so being on the losing side of history.  He called on the investor community to seize the opportunities for clean energy growth, challenging investors to double — at a minimum — their clean energy investments by 2020.  His full remarks are available online and in my office.

And at 1:15 p.m., this afternoon, you will hear a press briefing from Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); Thomas DiNapoli, New York State Comptroller; Michael Liebreich of Bloomberg New Energy Finance; and Philippe Defosses, the CEO of the public pension fund for French civil servants.

**Colombia

The Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, is returning today to New York from Quito, in Ecuador, where he represented the Secretary-General at the fourth summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).  Mr. Feltman engaged with the leadership and membership of the regional body on their role in the Political Mission approved Monday by the Security Council to help monitor and verify the future peace agreement between the Government of Colombia and the FARC.  The United Nations, with the Department of Political Affairs in the lead, is beginning to plan the Mission.

**Darfur

From Darfur, the African Union-United Nations [Hybrid Operation in Darfur] (UNAMID) says that the number of civilians seeking refuge in the vicinity of its Sortoni team site, in North Darfur, has increased to almost 14,770 people. That’s an increase of more than 50 per cent in just 24 hours — which is reportedly the result of intensified aerial bombings carried out during Monday afternoon.  Also yesterday, the Mission received information that 19 villages near Rockero, north Jebel Marra, in Central Darfur, that were burned down during fights; most residents of these villages are reported to have fled to Sortoni, Kabkabiya and Tawila, while others have sought shelter in surrounding mountains.

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Marta Ruedas, said that, following the fighting in the Jebel Marra region, about 19,000 people have fled into North Darfur State and up to 15,000 others into Central Darfur State in the past two weeks.  She added that although some humanitarian assistance was being provided, much more was needed. She called for safe and unfettered access to provide timely assistance to those in need.

**Afghanistan

Today, the humanitarian community in Afghanistan appealed for $393 million to help the most vulnerable and marginalized Afghans.  The funding is expected to provide food as well as access to health care, nutrition, drinking water and sanitation to an estimated 3.5 million people.  More information on the Humanitarian Response Plan for Afghanistan is available online.

**Agriculture

I would also like to flag the second Report on the State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, issued today by the Food and Agriculture Organization.  The report finds that livestock keepers and policy makers worldwide are increasingly interested in harnessing animal biodiversity to improve production and food security on a warmer, more crowded planet.  However, many valuable animal breeds continue to be at risk:  17 per cent of the world's farm animal breeds are currently at risk of extinction, while the risk status of many others is simply unknown due to a lack of data.  And between 2000 and 2014, nearly 100 livestock breeds have become extinct.

**Security Council Speech

Also, I wanted to come back to yesterday’s statement by the Secretary-General on the Middle East Peace Process.  I think it has provoked quite a lot of reactions, some of it negative.  Just to underscore that the Secretary-General stands by every word that he used in the Security Council.  Some have accused the Secretary-General of justifying terrorism. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Secretary-General has repeatedly said that nothing, absolutely nothing justifies terrorism.  We have to work together to fight the sources and the causes that fuel that terrorism.  To echo what the Secretary-General said yesterday in the Security Council: he condemns the stabbings, vehicle attacks and shootings by Palestinians targeting Israeli civilians. Again, nothing excuses terror.

The Secretary-General rejects the language that accused him of “giving terror a tailwind.”  Anyone is free to pick and choose what they like or dislike from the Secretary-General's speeches; words can continue to be twisted, but the grave reality cannot be [obscured].  At the same time, if we want to see an end to this violence, security measures will not be enough – we must address the root causes -- the underlying frustration and failure to achieve a political solution.

After nearly 50 years of occupation -- decades after Oslo -- Palestinians – especially young Palestinians -- are losing hope.  Israelis, Palestinians and the international community need to read the writing on the wall: the status quo is untenable, it undermines the security of Israelis and the future for Palestinians. 

And also just to note that the Secretary-General will be speaking this afternoon at the opening session of the Committee on the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.  That is I believe at about 3 p.m.

**Deputy Secretary-General

The Deputy Secretary-General will speak at an informal meeting of the General Assembly on “Human Rights Up Front” this afternoon at 4 p.m. That meeting will be webcast.

**Honour Roll

Two more countries have paid their regular budget dues in full — Iceland and Norway, which brings us up to 17 [Member States who have paid in full for 2016].

**South Sudan

Questions were asked yesterday about flights in South Sudan by the man in the empty chair.  First, flights of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) are not being planned according to the 28 State configuration. The issue of 28 States is an important one which should be resolved by the parties as a matter of priority.

On the issue of pay to national staff:  national staff salary scale is based in South Sudanese Pound. We have been paying national staff in US dollars as an exceptional measure.  When the Government of South Sudan floated the exchange rate last month, it caused the value of their pay in US dollars to deteriorate considerably.  UN Headquarters and the Mission are working to put in place an interim measure until a comprehensive local salary survey is conducted within the next 3-6 months.  The National Staff Association is fully aware of these efforts and [is] involved in the discussions.

**Noon Briefing Guest

I know some of you had expected Nickolay Mladenov, but like tens of thousands of other people, his flight was cancelled due to the snowstorm so he stayed in Jerusalem.  This is when you ask questions.  Yes, sir.

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  [Inaudible] has sent a letter to Secretary‑General Ban Ki‑moon yesterday and also they send a letter today…

Spokesman:  Your microphone, please, sorry, so our millions of fans on the webcast can actually hear what you're asking me.  We don't want to deny them the pleasure of your voice.  Go ahead.

Question:  We understand the Syrian opposition meeting in Riyadh… and they formed a delegation of 17 people to send to Geneva… have sent a letter to the Secretary‑General yesterday and are waiting today to receive an answer to decide whether they go or not go.  They also send similar letter to Staffan de Mistura today.  So, there are two letters.  Has the Secretary‑General answered them and gave them assurances about the points they raised in these letters which we saw?  And if not, why not?

Spokesman:  The discussions that are ongoing are between the Special Envoy and the various groups and individuals that will attend the proximity talks.  I think, as Mr. de Mistura said, it will be a time of a lot of surprises, tensions, one way or another.  He expects the proximity talks to start on Friday.  It will be a long process.  These will not, as he said, not be face to face negotiations, but they are proximity talks, and we very much hope to see as many people there in Geneva talking to Mr. de Mistura over the next few weeks.  So that, whatever discussions are had, whatever answers are being given to the letters will be given to the sender of the letter first, and obviously we will await their response.

Correspondent:  Forgive me.  I'm not asking about the answers, what are the answers.  I'm just asking if they are answered, I mean, because they…

Spokesman:  Obviously, questions that delegations may have, we will be answering them, as Mr. de Mistura has been answering them over the… since he started this process.

Question:  Has the Secretary‑General written back to them?  I don't know how to word it any plainer.  Has he…

Spokesman:  I understand what you're trying to say.  What I'm saying is that Mr. de Mistura is the lead on those discussions.  Those answers will come… will first come from him.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you.  To continue with that, do we, do we have a list of all the invitees?  And we know that the Democratic Kurdish Party has not been invited under pressure from Turkey.  Is that… do you verify that?

Spokesman:  No, I don't.  You know, as I said, these are… first of all, we will not… Mr. de Mistura's office will not be releasing the list at this time.  These are proximity talks over a period of a few weeks and months as stated by the Security Council resolution, so people will come, will come and go.  It will be a rolling process.

Question:  I have a second question on Yemen.  There are some news said that a few human rights experts are calling for investigation of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Yemen.  Do you have some details of this…?

Spokesman:  No, I think we've seen, I've seen press reports of leaked documents that were sent to the Security Council.  Obviously, it's up to the Council to decide.  The Secretary‑General, for his part, as well as the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has always called for full investigation of all the war crimes and crimes against humanity that may have committed in Yemen.

 

Question:  I have a follow‑up, please, on the same subject of Syria.  When you say any answer comes from Staffan de Mistura, does that mean the Secretary‑General will not answer the letter that…?

Spokesman:  No, it's not… it's not what I mean.  The discussions are being… Staffan de Mistura represents the Secretary‑General.

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Spokesman:  Yeah, and they… I understand.

Question:  Is the Secretary‑General going to answer…?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General answers letters.  I mean, he is well brought up and he answers correspondence.  Mr. de Mistura is working on behalf of the Secretary‑General and is very much in the lead on trying to bring some… I'm trying to find an apt metaphor, but maybe I'll stay away from poetry… and trying to lead the process as best he can.

Question:  Time is short.  I mean, you want…?

Spokesman:  I think, you know, you don't have to remind us of time being short.  The Secretary‑General has been saying for quite some time now that every day wasted is a day where we see more suffering.  I think no one, except for the Syrian people themselves, understand that time is short.  Matthew?  And Olga.

Question:  I'm sorry if you answered this.  Yemen and CAR [Central African Republic], both very short.  One is, I mean, on Yemen, on this recommendation for a commission of inquiry into war crimes, has the, has the… I've been looking at his Twitter feed, but has the envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, does he have any response to this report of, you know, dozens of war crimes [inaudible]?

Spokesman:  Whether it's the Special Envoy or the Secretary‑General, I think they've all been calling for any crimes against humanity, any violation of international law to be fully investigated.

Question:  And on CAR, I wanted to… maybe… it's possible that you read this out at the beginning.  I've heard there's a new round of sexual abuse allegations found by the Mission involving soldiers from the Republic of Congo and DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo].  Is that the case?  And what's the… why… if you haven't yet announced it, why haven't you?

Spokesman:  I don't have anything to share with you at this point on this.

Question:  What's the protocol for the Mission going public when it becomes aware?  Because I've heard of this from pretty…

Spokesman:  This Mission has been extremely proactive in sharing publicly allegations.  So, when we're ready to do so, we will. Olga?

Question:  Thank you.  Stéphane, you mentioned the Secretary‑General's statement in the GA Hall on the holocaust commemoration event, and he said that today we celebrate the liberation of infamous Nazi extermination camp.  Why didn't he mention who liberated the camp?

Spokesman:  I think we've… I think the Secretary‑General is fully aware of the role of both — of all Allied troops, whether they be Soviet, American, British and many others, who participated in the liberation of the camps, of the death camps.  Mr. Klein, and then we'll go down.  Okay.

Question:  Okay.  Thank you.  First of all, on the CAR, just a follow‑up question, can you at least tell us in terms of process whether… if there are any more recent allegations that have not yet been made public, are they being directed to the High Commissioner for Human Rights for his personal review promptly, as has been recommended…?

Spokesman:  I think everyone in the peacekeeping missions, especially in the Mission in the Central African Republic, is fully aware of the need to share information with the Human Rights Office, with UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] if it involves minors.

Correspondent:  Well, part of the recommendation, as I recall, I haven't read it in some time, but it was that there was a recommendation that kind of centralized the reporting mechanism, so that it would go directly…

Spokesman:  In terms of the recommendations and the creation of the coordination unit, obviously, that is being studied.  But, I would… I'm clear in saying that everyone in that peacekeeping mission is clearly sensitized to report quickly anything they see on that front.  Go ahead.

Question:  On Syria, because that was my original question, going back to that, could you give us a little more definition on what rolling process means?  I've heard this used otherwise today or rolling six‑month process when the Security Council resolution had fixed a six‑month timetable for the negotiation of the transition apparatus, etc.  Is the goal now more modest, at least in the short term, in terms of opening up access to besieged and hard‑to‑reach areas…?

Spokesman:  I think the goal is very clearly stated in the Security Council resolution.  What we would like to see as quickly as possible is a reduction in the level of violence or cessation of the violence.  We don't want to wait six months to see an end to the suffering and to see an end to the violence.  So, that would be our… what we would like to see as quickly as possible is a reduction of the violence or at least a cessation of violence.  Sherwin.

Question:  Stéph, very quickly, is the Secretary‑General going to the AU [African Union] Summit in Addis this weekend?  And in addition to that, what are his expectations of the summit in relation to Burundi?

Spokesman:  Yes, he's very much going to the AU Summit, something he looks forward to every year.  It's an opportunity for him to have a number of bilateral meetings with African leaders.  Obviously, Burundi and the situation in Burundi will be high on the agenda of his discussions with various leaders.  What he would like to see is a reduction in the violence and the resumption of a political, an inclusive political dialogue.

Question:  No, it's okay.  I have two questions.  One follow‑up question on Yemen.  Does that mean, what you said, that there is a committee or there's a work in [inaudible] in order to investigate the human rights violations?

Spokesman:  No, I think that's not what I said.  I think there is, I've seen, like you have press report of document that was given to the Security Council, so if you have questions on that I would address it to the Security Council.  What I was saying is that the Secretary‑General — and his Special Envoy — has repeatedly asked for crimes against civilians for crimes against humanity, for war crimes, potential war crimes, to be fully investigated and the perpetrators being brought to account.

Question:  I have… The UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], the US UNRWA is having the run event, work run event for Gaza to fund the UNRWA community mental health programme on the 26 March in New York.  Is the Secretary‑General going to participate, or there's a chance?

Spokesman:  I don't know.  I don't know if he'll be here, but I know he would definitely… if he's not there in person, I know he would morally support the event and probably encourage me to run.  Yes.

Question:  On CAR, could you please confirm if the second round of the presidential election has been postponed or not?

Spokesman:  No, that's not… that obviously is a decision of the national electoral authorities.  As far as I've seen, it has not been postponed, but that's just as far as I've seen.  Let’s go to people who haven't asked a question yet.  Go ahead.  And then Iftikhar.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  My question is related to DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea].  Japanese sources said there is a sign that DPRK is preparing for launching long‑range ballistic missile from the northeast part of the country in a week or so judging from the recent satellite photo analysis.  Has United Nations or ICAO received such a notice from DPRK?  Thank you.

Question:  Not that I'm aware, but we will check with ICAO and other colleagues.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Is the rejoinder that you read out, the Secretary‑General's rejoinder that you read out in response to some angry comments by Israeli officials, is it being issued as a formal statement?

Spokesman:  It is being issued as something the Secretary‑General's Spokesman has said in this briefing room.

Correspondent:  Not… not a formal statement.

Spokesman:  I've said it publicly.

Question:  Staffan de Mistura spoke about three aims from these talks, to set up a government, to write a constitution at the end of this process, and to do elections in 18 months’ time.  What is the difference between setting up a government maybe of national unity and between the governing body, the transitional governing body with executive powers, that the Geneva communiqué speak about?  Can you explain to us?  Because it's raising a lot of eyebrows in the Middle East, you know.  Is it a government of national unity, or is it a transitional body with executive powers?

Spokesman:  You know, Talal, and I don't mean this lightly, and I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I think the discussions in Geneva are at a very delicate stage.  Mr. de Mistura is very much in the lead.  I will not… I don't… I will not be interpreting what he said.  He's very careful in the words that he chooses, and I will let them stand.  You're following behind who has not asked a question yet.

Correspondent:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On this… maybe this question was asked already, but in the wake of what Mr. John Ging has said in a Geneva press conference and what I heard from the Ambassador O'Brien over here, there is… seems to be, I mean, a reluctance on the part of the United Nations to, what do you call, at least ask the parties who are involved in stalling these negotiations.  Like, for instance, there… Saudi Arabia is vetoing this person and so‑and‑so country is vetoing this person.  And all that is hampering the process.  And in the process, the people of Syria are suffering.  So, how do we, what do you call… I mean, to get this… Saudi Arabians and the other players on board…

Spokesman:  I think there's no reluctance on the part of the United Nations to push through the political process on Syria.  I think you've heard in very clear language the briefing from Stephen O'Brien, the briefing from Ertharin Cousin.  I think we've been laying out the picture very clearly for political leaders to see. Mr. de Mistura is a seasoned diplomat.  He is extending all of his skills to bring the parties together to sit around the table.  But he cannot do this alone.  He needs the regional Powers, the global Powers, to all be on the same song sheet, to ensure that all those who are part and parcel of this conflict agree to come to Geneva, to participate in these initial talks.  As we've said before, every day wasted is a day where there's more suffering and more death of the Syrian people.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Follow‑up on Burundi and a question on Sri Lanka.  On Burundi, given that now the Government has not responded to or blocked the human rights experts from Geneva and given the… the… the… other things said from this podium, what sense does it make for the UN peacekeeping to continue to use and give waivers to Burundian peacekeepers in CAR, or said otherwise, is there a connection between a country's compliance with, with UN demands, requests, things like accepting experts in and, in fact, paying them money, which some say don't even go to the troops for service and peacekeeping missions?

Spokesman:  Okay.  The peacekeeping troops, units that serve in peacekeeping missions undergo various vetting processes that involve both the UN and the host country.  I think, as you've seen, when there have been cases, we have not accepted certain individuals.  We've also returned battalions in other cases.  This will be continued to be looked at on a rolling basis.

Question:  Will you confirm that they have a waiver to serve in CAR until April by Mr. Ladsous granted on 1 October?

Spokesman:  No.

Question:  Okay.  I wanted to ask on Sri Lanka, I've been meaning to ask for a few days.  The President, Sirisena, gave an interview with BBC Sinhala and said:  "There is no room for foreign involvement in the proposed judicial mechanism to investigate war crimes," which is totally contrary to the resolution sponsored in Geneva by the Government.  What does the Secretary‑General think of this reneging on international involvement…?

Spokesman:  I will take a look at the interview and get back to you.  Talal, you're a man of unwavering optimism.

Correspondent:  [Inaudible]

Spokesman:  I know.

Question:  [Inaudible] is it a point of reference for the Geneva talks... I mean, we understand the Geneva communiqué, resolutions 2254 (2015) and 2118 (2013), but is Iran four point… do you support that plan, and is it a point of reference for Geneva?

Spokesman:  Again, I'm not going to go into the details.  Our road map is the Security Council resolution.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you.  The response of the Secretary‑General, you said various parties criticized him.  Is there any other party other than Israel that criticized the Secretary‑General's statement?

Spokesman:  Well, I think we've seen some NGOs and looking at my Twitter feed, I think quite a few individuals.Question:  According to the health… World Health Organization, there's an emerging viral disease called Zika.  Are you aware of that…?

Spokesman:  Yes, very much.  I think we mentioned something about it yesterday.  The Pan American Health Organization will be sending out technical experts to various countries in the Americas to help governments deal with the outbreak of this virus.

Question:  How serious the virus is compared to Ebola?

Spokesman:  You know, I would not make, I would not make that comparison.  Obviously, it is something that's worrying.  I think we've seen… we've seen what's happened in Brazil, but obviously, there also needs to be much more… there needs to be much more research done, and I think it's important that people listen and follow the advices of their national health organizations.  Masood.

Question:  Thank you, sir.  Stéphane, can you please tell us, in view of Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu's statement in which he suggested that the United Nations practically becoming irrelevant to the political process, I mean, what can be done?  Now, is he just saying that UN is… is he looking at other interlocutors to, what you call, towards this process?  And does the Secretary‑General agree with this statement that the United Nations has become totally irrelevant to the process?

Spokesman:  I think, the first part of your question should probably be addressed to the Prime Minister of Israel. The second part, I think, the Secretary, the United Nations is very much involved in the peace process as an integral part of the quartet, not to mention the UN's humanitarian work that is done through UNRWA and other UN agencies.  Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure.  A Zika follow‑up and something on UNEP.  Has the… I guess maybe you'll answer this or you can take it.  Several of the countries… you said people should obey their national authorities.  Several countries have advised women to not have children in 2017, some say 2018.  Does the UN system, I guess, maybe think that that's reasonable, or what does UN-Women think about that as responses…?

Spokesman:  I think, obviously, we're trying to get a little more guidance from WHO and PAHO on the issue.

Question:  And the other one is just factual.  Kenya has said that they've nominated their current perm rep here, Ambassador Kamau, to head UNEP.  And I wanted to know about this process, they say that the President of Kenya has submitted to Ban Ki‑moon his name to replace Achim Steiner in June.  Is this going to be a process with, like, a short list?  Has a letter gone out to Member States seeking…?

Spokesman:  It's a question… I'll find out.  I think most different funds and programmes have different procedures on how to appoint the head.  Some of them involve the General Assembly; some don't.  I will try to find out and get back to you.  Don't forget, there is a press conference in about two and a half minutes by Christiana Figueres, the head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and others.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.