The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General is in Oman today. He gave an address to the National Defense College on conflict prevention, during which he stressed that the conflicts in Syria and Yemen showed that the idea of a so-called winner had lost all meaning. Everyone is losing, he said, and the biggest victims are the innocent civilian populations. He noted the start of the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva and urged all parties to put the people of Syria at the heart of their discussions, and above partisan interests. He said that civilians, including children and women, are bearing the brunt of the conflict.
The Secretary-General thanked Oman for its key role as a bridge-builder for peace, particularly in support of the Yemen talks, as well as for its recent financial contribution for conflict prevention. He also thanked Oman for helping the United Nations digitize its audiovisual archives, being a prime mover of this critical undertaking for the UN, for its history and its past. And he also met with the Foreign and Defense Ministers of Oman.
The Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, spoke at the opening of the Economic and Social Council’s Youth Forum this morning. He underscored young people’s crucial role in shaping the 2030 Agenda, calling them agents of change whose contributions will bring benefits to both themselves and to society. Mr. Eliasson also spoke about the challenges confronting young people today, including obstacles to finding decent work. The UN estimates that nearly 75 million young people around the world are out of work. Some 40 per cent of all economically active youth are either unemployed or working in poverty. His full remarks are available online.
And as a reminder, I will be joined in a short while, I will be joined by the Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Guy Rider, and Anna Salgarriaga from a youth NGO [non-governmental organization], and they’ll tell you more about this.
**World Health Organization
I just wanted to remind you that Dr. Margaret Chan, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Director-General, and Professor David Heymann, the Chair of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee, will hold a virtual press briefing on the Zika virus today at 6:30 p.m. Geneva time, 12:30 p.m. here in New York. As you know, Dr. Chan today convened the first meeting of the Emergency Committee concerning Zika and observed increase in neurological disorders and neonatal malformations. More information on how to access the briefing is available in my office and online. And also, on a separate issue, WHO is calling on Governments to rate movies that portray tobacco use in a bid to prevent children and adolescents from starting to smoke cigarettes and use other forms of tobacco.
And the Secretary-General, as you know, was in Ethiopia over the weekend, where he participated in the African Union Summit. In Ethiopia, he conducted a number of meetings with Heads of State and other officials. We issued readouts of all these meetings, including the ones with the Presidents of Mali, Chad, Rwanda and South Africa, and the Second Vice-President of Burundi. And we issued readouts of all of those meetings.
In his speech to the African Union, among other issues, the Secretary-General reiterated the need for good governance, as 17 African countries will go to the ballot box in 2016. Leaders should never use undemocratic constitutional changes and legal loopholes to cling to power, he said, stressing that we have all seen the tragic consequences when they do. And before leaving Ethiopia, the Secretary-General visited an area of the country affected by drought caused by one of the worst El Niño weather phenomena on record. He said he was impressed by the national efforts to address the situation and called for increased support from donors.
And in an op-ed published in today’s The New York Times, as you may have seen, the Secretary-General writes that 2016 has begun much as 2015 ended in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories — with unacceptable levels of violence and a polarized public [discourse]. That polarization, he writes, showed itself in the halls of the United Nations last week when he pointed out a simple truth, that history proves that people will always resist occupation.
The Secretary-General says that some sought to shoot the messenger by twisting his words into a misguided justification for violence. He reiterates that nothing excuses terrorism and he condemns it categorically. But, he adds that it is inconceivable that security measures alone will stop the violence. Everyone is free to pick and choose what they like or dislike from speeches, but the Secretary-General asserts that the time has come for Israelis, Palestinians and the international community to see the writing on the wall: the status quo is untenable. Keeping another people under indefinite occupation undermines the security and future of both Israelis and Palestinians.
And we also issued a statement over the weekend in which the Secretary-General said that he was alarmed by recent statements from Hamas leadership in Gaza about the group’s intention to continue building tunnels and firing rockets at Israel. Such statements and actions put at risk reconstruction, humanitarian and development efforts by the international community, as well as by Palestinian and Israeli authorities. They also do a serious disservice to the long-suffering people of Gaza. And that statement is online.
Our friends at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) tell us that an estimated 12,500 people are besieged in the villages of Foah and Kafraya, in Syria's Idleb Governorate, where residents have faced a deterioration of the humanitarian situation over the last months. Humanitarian agencies said there are increasing reports of acute shortages of food, basic commodities, medical items and fuel in the enclave. A lack of fuel and fertilizer has made cultivation of agricultural lands in that area increasingly difficult. Local sources report that up to 70 per cent of the farmland is now inaccessible due to sniper activity. Prices of food and other basic staples have increased sharply.
Residents are depending on water from untreated wells sold at high cost. However, water availability is dependent on the availability of diesel to operate the [water] pumps. The United Nations and the Red Cross/Red Crescent delivered assistance to the enclave in October 2015 and on three occasions in January.
And from Iraq, a total of 849 Iraqis were killed and another 1,450 were wounded in acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict in Iraq in January, according to casualty figures released today by the United Nations in Baghdad. The figures showed that Baghdad Governorate was the worst affected, with 1,084 civilian casualties, including about 300 killed. Ján Kubiš, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, deplored the continuing high casualty toll, particularly a sharp increase in the number of injuries among civilians in January as compared to the previous month. He said: “One casualty is one too many. The suffering of the Iraqi people must end.” A UNAMI [United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq] press release is available online.
Also, just want to flag that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights today expressed his concern over the actions of security forces and the clampdown on the media in Turkey. He urged Turkish authorities to respect the fundamental rights of civilians in security operations and to investigate the alleged shooting caught on video of unarmed people in the southeast.
And just to flag a couple of things coming up later today. During the ECOSOC Youth Forum, the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa will hold an interactive breakout session on sub-Saharan Africa tomorrow from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. in Conference Room 5. That event will be moderated by Francine Furaha Muyumba, the Pan African Youth Union President. The session will provide an opportunity for youth, particularly African and diaspora youth, to discuss their priority concerns for the continent, such as youth unemployment, health, gender equality, conflict and peacebuilding solutions within the context of the 2030 Agenda. At 5 p.m. this afternoon, Ambassador Rafael Darío Ramírez Carreño of Venezuela, will brief you as he is that President of the Security Council for the month of February.
And the Honour Roll: Today we thank Finland, New Zealand, Nicaragua and Sweden for paying their dues in full. Twenty-five countries have actually paid up. Michelle.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thanks, Stéph. Just on those besieged towns in Syria that you mentioned and, along with a couple of others, Zabadani and Madaya, there's some reports that there could be another, a… humanitarian and medical aid delivery soon. Do you have any updates on that?
Spokesman: No, those discussions continue, are continuing on the ground. As you can imagine, they're fairly delicate, and as soon as they're ready to go in and announce, they will do so. Sylviane.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. What is the UN reaction on the proposal by Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius… French Foreign [Minister] to organize an international conference on Palestine to discuss two‑State solution? Otherwise France would recognize the State of Palestine. Is there any reaction on…?
Spokesman: Well, obviously, the French Government is… I won't comment on the possible recognition. I think the Secretary‑General will study the proposal but, obviously, would support any diplomatic efforts to bring an end to the stalemate that we're seeing.
Question: Would the UN be part of this conference?
Spokesman: I think we're looking at the details as they come along. Oleg, then Matthew.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On the terrorist attack in the suburbs of Damascus yesterday, there were 60 people killed, among them… yes, they were combatants, but mostly, it was civilians and first responders. There was no statement from Ban Ki‑moon. Why was there nothing said?
Spokesman: My understanding is that a statement is coming forthwith. Matthew?
Question: Sure, Burundi and then about the use of this room. Just on Burundi, I saw the Secretary‑General's comments at the summit, but does he have any specific comment on the decision not to deploy the peacekeeping force MAPROBU, and does he have any knowledge of the, what some say will be a high‑level delegation sent to Burundi to try to still convince Pierre Nkurunziza to accept it?
Spokesman: Sure, I mean, we're obviously aware of the delegation. The Secretary‑General has also taken note of the discussions just held at the AU summit on the preventive deployment to Burundi of MAPROBU, as well as the position of the government of Burundi on the matter. He welcomes the decision of the AU leaders to dispatch a high‑level delegation to Burundi for further consultations with President Nkurunziza and Burundian authorities and stresses that measures must be found to address the ongoing violence in the country. It is critical to start an inclusive political process in Burundi, as we've been saying here for quite some time. The African Union and the countries of the regions will play a crucial effort in that… crucial role in that effort, and the UN will continue to work with our partners to support dialogue and find ways to prevent a further deterioration of the situation through the Secretary‑General's Special Adviser, Mr. Jamal Benomar.
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. Also, on Friday, you'd said to me that were you going to clarify something. So, I just want to ask you about it, about the use of this room. There was an event held Friday at 5 p.m., as you know, since you came and asked me to leave it. But, it was with UN tech… you know, UN audio support. And I know that, in the past, when, for example, the President of France tried to also borrow the room for the travelling press corps, you had said to me it wouldn't happen again. What's the… what's the protocols for having… for ejecting the media from the UN press briefing room? And is it appropriate, I guess maybe I misunderstood it, but I… you seemed to be poking at my camera which was filming. Is a UN Spokesperson supposed to be turning off the camera of the media filming something that at least I believed was newsworthy in that the Organization holding the event has received money from Ng Lap Seng, the Macau‑based businessman now under house arrest, in exchange for a photo op…
Spokesman: Matthew, the thing that was most inappropriate on Friday was your behaviour. And I think hiding… Matthew, hiding in an interpreter's booth…
Question: Is it hiding? It's a glass room.
Spokesman: I think… Matthew, are you going to let me speak? Okay. I think it was completely inappropriate and does not, I think, follow the guidelines of… proper guidelines of behaviour of anyone who is accredited here. Who gets to use this room is really my decision, is this office's decision. It was… okay. It was lent, it was lent to UNCA to use as their general… for a general meeting they had. And I really have nothing else to say.
Correspondent: It's a glassed‑in… for the record, it's a glassed‑in booth entirely visible. Number two… why did you say [inaudible]… could you ask any journalist to walk out right now…
Spokesman: Matthew, I'm done answering on this issue. Mr. Klein.
Question: Okay. You referenced the Secretary‑General's op-ed article on… his remarks on the Israeli‑Palestinian conflict, and as you know, at the United Nations, there's been a decades‑old struggle to define terrorism and a dispute between those who say resistance fighters are not terrorists. In what you just read and also in the Secretary‑General's remarks, he talked about fighting resistance. So, what I would like to know, for the record, is: does the Secretary‑General believe that Hamas, its actions with the tunnels and with the rockets launched from Gaza, is a terrorist organization, and does the Secretary‑General believe that the stabbing, vehicular homicide against civilians that occurred daily in Israel is… are terrorist acts?
Spokesman: I think, Joe, with all due respect, I think just the premise of your question, I would encourage you to really read his op-ed in full, because I think it answers it. The Secretary‑General has unequivocally condemned acts of terrorism whenever they occur, wherever they occur. He has condemned acts of terrorism committed by Palestinians against Israelis, clearly. And that is not… I mean, you even look at the statement we issued on Saturday on Hamas, on the tunnels. What he is basically saying in the op-ed, and I think, you know, he's much more eloquent than I am on the issue, and I would encourage you to read it, and I don't think anybody can really argue with the points that he's making: is that the status quo is untenable and that the occupation needs to stop. It is not an excuse for terrorism. He has condemned terrorism over and over again, and he will continue to do so. Sher…
Question: I'm also following up. So, you can go… I'll give you time right after this. Sounded like Cruz, doesn't it, in a debate? The question is… the question is, what does the Secretary‑General hope this op-ed will achieve. Given the intransigence you see on both sides of this debate, the failed mediation efforts led by the United States… I mean, we mentioned France's initiative. What does he believe the next steps are? Is it the Quartet? Is it the Security Council? What does he want to see?
Spokesman: I think a frank… he hopes this will open up a very frank conversation and a frank debate and that people actually see the realities… the realities on the ground. And we hope this motivates the international community to act in concert and finally find a path forward to a two‑State solution. Carole?
Question: Sort of the same question. So, this is the third time in, I think, as many days or in a short period of time that the Secretary‑General has spoken… has used stronger language to talk about the situation. So, why now? Why… what's… what's… why?
Spokesman: I wouldn't say… yes, stronger, but I think, more importantly, clearer. The reason for the op-ed was really motivated by a sense that his words in the Security Council were misinterpreted or twisted, and people were picking and choosing. I think this op-ed, I think through this… through this paper, through this op-ed, I don't think the Secretary‑General could be any clearer as to his position. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Follow‑up on the op-ed piece. First… the first question, has he been attacked again for that? I heard he received another letter from the Israeli Mission criticizing him for this op-ed…
Spokesman: I'm not aware.
Question: Can you confirm that?
Spokesman: I'm not aware of another letter. As far as the reaction, you can look on Twitter, you'll see the reactions.
Correspondent: Okay. Second, I think I commend him for saying history proves that people will always resist occupation. However, when there was a few examples of resisting occupation, he talked about these acts as they are act of terrorism. The other thing what I found missing from this Op-ed piece that excessive use of violence. I mean, the number of people killed had not been mentioned.
Spokesman: With all due respect, Abdelhamid, I'm not sure this is going to lead to a question mark. So, I will kind of answer you, and I will answer Joe in the SG's words: Everyone is free to pick and choose from what they like or dislike from his speeches or editorials, but the time has come for Israelis, Palestinians and the international community to read the writing on the wall. The status quo is untenable. Keeping another people under indefinite opposition undermines the security and the future of both Israelis and Palestinians. Michele?
Question: Thanks, Stéph. The SG's previously expressed some concern about civilian deaths in Yemen, and the UN panel of experts last week said both the Houth… the Houthis and the Saudi‑led coalition could be committing crimes against humanity. The US [United States] and the UK [United Kingdom]… the Saudi‑led coalition said today that the US and the UK are now helping them to improve their targeting to lessen civilian casualties. Is there any comment from the SG on that?
Spokesman: Well, we would like to see an elimination of civilian casualties. I've also seen reports that the Saudi coalition were going to investigate a number of cases where civilians have been killed. We hope these investigations are done swiftly and fully transparently and shared with the public. I think we've seen too many civilians in Yemen bear the brunt of the violence. Sherwin, then Matthew, then Oleg.
Question: Thanks, Stéph. Back to Addis Ababa and the Secretary‑General on Burundi, in his statement to the summit, he basically spoke about his endorsement of the Peace and Security Council's decision to send those peacekeepers to Burundi. Why then is he now welcoming a decision not to do that and essentially to then send another delegation, as we've seen in the past? Why is that acceptable to him given the urgency of the situation?
Spokesman: I think, you know, the African Union has a leadership role to play in this. They've obviously reassessed the situation somewhat. We're still very much supportive of their efforts. Oleg, then Matthew.
Correspondent: Thanks, Stéphane. Back to the Israeli‑Palestinian thing. We've seen an exchange in statements and, like, behind bars and everything. But…
Spokesman: Behind bars?
Question: …has there been… I mean… behind the scene. I'm sorry. Yeah. So, has there been any direct communication between Ban Ki‑moon and the Israeli authorities? Has he called them? Has they called him… did he try to explain what he said directly, not in the statement?
Spokesman: There was a meeting shortly after the Secretary‑General left for this current trip with the permanent representative of Israel and the CdC, the Chef de Cabinet, and the Deputy Secretary‑General, and other contacts are being had at different levels. Matthew.
Question: Sure. When he was in Addis Ababa, I looked… I combed over the statements that the Secretary‑General made, but I wanted to know whether he said, did anything or had any meetings about these Oromo protests in which more than 140 people have been killed as… you know, you've answered sort of within… with some statements here in the briefing room, but while he was there, did the issue come up? Did he do anything on it?
Spokesman: I would refer you to the readouts we've put out.
Question: And I wanted to ask you about sexual abuse, as well. Following Mr. Banbury's briefing on Friday, I'd asked him here and then in writing to peacekeeping about this The Washington Post article now three weeks ago in which UN officials, officials plural, were quoted about the… the… the use of a child's prostitution ring in the CAR [Central African Republic] by peacekeepers from Gabon, Morocco, Burundi and France. And it doesn't seem to be part of this most recent disclosure. So, I'm still left… I mean, I got the e-mail back and I appreciated it for once from UN peacekeeping, but what is it… if UN officials were able to speak to The Washington Post about the nationality of peacekeepers three weeks ago, why aren't these yet part of some public process?
Spokesman: I don't know that UN officials are… obviously, as soon as we're able to confirm allegations and we feel we're in a position to do so publicly, we will. Sylviane.
Question: Thank you again. About the SG's trip to the Middle East, is the SG will be stopping by… in Israel during his trip…?
Spokesman: No, he's going from Oman, and then he'll be going straight to London tomorrow. Edie.
Question: Stéph, there was a historic opening of parliament in Myanmar today. Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on… on this…?
Spokesman: Obviously, I think it's… as you say, it's, it's a historical moment. It's another extremely important step in the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. Masood.
Question: Yes, sir. Thank you. I just wanted to know, Stéphane, what does the Secretary‑General understand… the resolutions… the United Nations resolutions in General Assembly and so forth on the right of the people to resist occupation? How does he understand that? Are the people… do the people have the right to resist occupation?
Spokesman: The relevant resolutions speak for themselves. It's not up to the Secretary‑General to interpret them. Sherwin.
Question: The Secretary‑General was… was singled out by the outgoing AU chair during his closing, his remarks at the AU summit. I don't know if you saw the interaction with President Mugabe sort of targeting… singling out the Secretary‑General about equality at the UN — UN reform. How did the Secretary‑General feel about the circumstance that that played itself out in?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General is not unused to being criticized and being singled out. It comes with the territory, and he was, I think, very honoured to be able to speak at this AU session, which, as he said, for him was a very emotional moment as it was the last… his last one as Secretary‑General.
Question: Could you characterize his relationship with Robert Mugabe?
Spokesman: No. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, The Himalayan Times has reported that a Nepalese peacekeeper died while in Darfur. And I haven't heard anything from it here. Do you have anything on… from UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] on a dead peacekeeper?
Spokesman: No, but I will check.Question: And I wanted to ask you about one other question about the audit that was announced last year about… into… after the indictment of the previous PGA [President of the General Assembly] and Mr. Ng Lap Seng, and it's been said a number of times that this audit was taking place of all interactions between Ng Lap Seng's Sun Kian Ip foundation and the Global Sustainability Foundation in the UN system. What's the status of it? And to return to my previous question, the organization that you lent the room to has… is, is that part of the audit? That is my question.
Spokesman: The audit is in its final stages. When it's ready, I will let you know. And I'm going to go get our guests.