The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
First of all, welcome to our friends from UNA-USA [United Nations Association of the United States] who are here joining us today as they mark Members Day at the United Nations. So welcome to you.
Over the weekend, the Secretary-General will leave New York for a visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan. He is expected to be in Goma on 23 February to visit people affected by the insecurity and humanitarian crisis in the region, including those living in camps for internally displaced people. The next day, he will be in Kinshasa for the opening session of the Great Lakes Private Sector Investment Conference. He is also expected to meet with the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Joseph Kabila, as well as several Government officials, and political and civil society representatives.
On 25 February, the Secretary-General will leave Kinshasa for Juba, South Sudan, where he is expected to meet with President Salva Kiir and visit a Protection of Civilians’ site that is run by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). We expect the Secretary-General to be back in New York by the end of next week.
**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels
Meanwhile, the Deputy Secretary-General is continuing his visit to Paris. Today, he met with the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, to discuss a range of international issues, including Syria, Libya, the Middle East Peace Process and Yemen, as well as preparations for the World Humanitarian Summit and follow up to the COP-21 [twenty-first Conference of Parties] Conference that took place in Paris in December. Tomorrow morning, the Deputy Secretary-General will head to Turkey.
Meanwhile, the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has left Damascus and is on his way back to Geneva. Yesterday, he participated in the Humanitarian Task Force meeting by video conference from Damascus.
Just to give you an update on the humanitarian activities: the World Food Programme (WFP) said today that it has been able to bring life-saving aid to people in Moadamiyeh, an area that had been inaccessible to WFP aid for over a year and a half. Families there have received two bags of wheat flower and other food items, including rice, lentils, canned food and cooking oil. WFP had also sent date bars that were fortified with vitamins and minerals. In Moadamiyeh more than 21,000 people have been reached, while in Foah and Kefraya more than 20,000 people have received aid, as well as 39,000 people in Madaya and some 1,000 people in Zabadani. Meanwhile, the World Food Programme is planning an air drop operation to reach up to 200,000 people in the Deir Ezzour area. It would be a high altitude operation, dropping food with parachutes. Planes would take off from a location in the region and is still in the planning stage, so as we have further details, we will share them with you.
And UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] reports that of the 82,000 people reached by the UN and partners in recent days, approximately 37,000 of them were children.
From South Sudan, our colleagues of the peacekeeping mission in that country say that the situation in its Protection of Civilians site in Malakal is now calm following an eruption of violence on Wednesday evening. But it remains concerned by the occurrence of such clashes. The Mission adds that the clashes between Shilluk and Dinka youths were further compounded by shooting coming from outside — reportedly from armed men wearing SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] uniforms. Peacekeepers have also now intensified their patrols around the perimeter of the site and secured specific areas in the vicinity of the UN base.
The Mission and partners are involved in discussions with community leaders from the Protection of Civilians site to promote calm and dialogue between the communities. They also continue to engage with local authorities in Malakal to control the situation and evaluate immediate humanitarian needs.
Also from South Sudan, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative in that country, Moustapha Soumaré, briefed the Security Council, saying that violence continued in many regions, including in regions that were previously calm. He said he was particularly concerned by the deteriorating situation in Wau, which has also escalated in the past 48 hours. He added that in response to the shifting dynamics of the conflict, the UN Mission there was focusing on projecting physical presence away from its bases through long-duration patrols and temporary bases in areas where insecurity is high.
Soumaré said that it was critical that the parties move ahead with the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity — the first step in fully implementing the Peace Agreement. On human rights, Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, also briefed and he urged the South Sudanese parties to immediately cease all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and abuses of human rights.
He also urged members of the Security Council and regional leaders to continue engaging the parties to conflict in this regard. It cannot be tolerated, he said, that leaders make declarations in Juba, while the hostilities and attacks on the civilian population continue and intensify across the country. And former Botswanan President Festus Mogae — who is the Chairperson of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission for South Sudan — also briefed the Council. We were just advised that the Security Council will hold consultations on Syria at 3 p.m. this afternoon.
**Central African Republic
On the Central African Republic, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) says that it assisted with the transfer of electoral results from all 16 prefectures — which are now all in Bangui, where they will be processed. The Mission and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) are supporting the compilation of results. The National Electoral Authority is expected to announce preliminary results from the presidential and legislative elections in the days to come.
Also, in Niger, where 7 million voters in Niger prepare to go to the polls this Sunday to elect a new president, our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) say that the humanitarian situation in the country remains of concern. According to our humanitarian colleagues, this year, two million people will suffer from food insecurity while 1.9 million will be threatened by malnutrition — 80 per cent of those are children.
The situation is particularly dire in the Diffa region, where 31 per cent of the population has reached crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity and malnutrition, and is affecting 17 per cent of people x– that’s above the emergency threshold. The Diffa region is also bearing the brunt of violence by Boko Haram that has spread into Niger and pushed some 200,000 people out of their homes. OCHA and partners are seeking $316 million this year to address the combined effects of chronic food insecurity, malnutrition and displacement due to Boko Haram activities.
The UN refugee agency, the UN Children’s Fund and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) say that every day since last September, an average of two children have drowned as their families try to cross the eastern Mediterranean. The agencies say the number of child deaths is growing and are calling for enhancing the safety of those escaping conflict and despair. As you know, the Secretary-General has called for a high-level meeting on global responsibility-sharing through legal pathways for admission of Syrian refugees. That is expected to take place in Geneva on 30 March. The statements by the Head of UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] and UNICEF and the IOM are available online.
UNICEF also reports that conflict in Ukraine has deeply affected the lives of 580,000 children living in non-Government-controlled areas and close to the front line in eastern Ukraine. Of these, 200,000 children — or one in three — need psychosocial support. More than 215,000 children are internally displaced from the conflict-affected areas. At least one out of every five schools has been damaged or destroyed.
For those of you who like bees — I am interested in bees — I also want to flag today a new study by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that measures the direct impact of bees on crop yields. That study shows that for smallholdings, pollination was the agricultural input that contributed the greatest to yields, beyond [other] management practices. This holds promise for one of the major agricultural challenges of our time: how to help smallholders produce more without hurting the environment. The research looks at how to attract bees and comes at a time when wild bees are threatened by a multitude of factors, including climate change. More on the FAO website.
In an answer to a question that was raised to me at the briefing outside yesterday on recent remarks by Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah of Hizbullah, I wanted to say that the Secretary-General condemns the statement that was made by Hassan Nasrallah of 16 February, threatening to target Israeli civilians with Hizbullah’s rocket arsenal. The Secretary-General reminds all parties to refrain from any rhetoric or act which could exacerbate tensions and present a risk to stability across the Blue Line. The Secretary-General will be reporting in fuller detail in his report to the [Security] Council on resolution 1701 (2006) a bit later.
On Monday I just wanted to flag that at 11 a.m., there will be a briefing here by Members of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria on their latest report, with Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, the Chair, and Vitit Muntarbhorn, also one of the Members. Virginia Gamba, the head of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, will talk to the press on Monday after the briefing on the Mechanism's first report to the Security Council. The stakeout will follow her appearance at the Security Council and should take place between 12:30 p.m. and 1 p.m. Masood-ji?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Stéphane, do you have any update on this US airstrikes in Libya and as to what it is doing and… yeah?
Spokesman: Sure. I mean, we've seen… obviously seen the reports and the statements by the US concerning the airstrikes in Libya. The expansion of Da’esh in Libya continues to proceed at an alarming rate and is threatening, obviously, the stability of the wider region. As we've said, time and time again, it's important that all efforts to combat Da’esh or other extremist groups must be done in accordance with international [human rights] law and international humanitarian law. And we would also underscore that the fight against Da’esh in Libya should be Libyan‑led and it is, therefore, critical that the Libyans seize the opportunity to unite under a Government of national accord to begin the long and difficult process of addressing the urgent needs of the population. This includes combatting the threat posed by extremist groups, like Da’esh and others, that continue to threaten large sections of the Libyan population.
Correspondent: You… you said that this… these strikes are according to international law. That has been going on now in Libya, and it is being said that this will continue.
Spokesman: No, what I said is that any military action against Da’esh or any other extremist groups, whether it be Libya, whether it be Syria, or anywhere else, needs to be done within the framework of international law, international humanitarian law, and just as important, to ensure that there are no civilian casualties. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about Burundi and South Sudan. Just on Burundi, as you know, the UNIC [United Nations Information Centre] there had said that Ban Ki‑moon is visiting February 22 to 23. You now say he'll be in Goma on 23 February, which, I guess, is Tuesday. Is he going to Burundi, and…?
Spokesman: Again, Matthew, when we're ready to confirm and announce a trip, we will do so.
Correspondent: But, you've confirmed a trip to that very region.
Spokesman: I sure have, yes.
Question: Okay. Let me ask you on South Sudan, because I… as you remember, yesterday, what UNMISS was saying was that this was… the killings were due to ethnic youths fighting in the camp. Now you've said that there were people dressed in SPLA uniforms outside the camp. I've heard that SPLA went into the camp, and I've seen a UN email saying that they went in and shot and looted. More importantly, I also heard that UNMISS knew two days before this event that the Dinka… some Dinka inhabitants of the camp had brought in weapons. And I wanted to know… I want to just ask you directly, because it's pretty serious if this is true. When did UNMISS know… how were the deaths… according to UNMISS, how were these 18 people killed? With weapons smuggled into the camp that UNMISS never searched for…?
Spokesman: Obviously, my understanding is that there may very well have been a breach. It is important that UNMISS investigates, and they're doing that to try to figure out exactly what happened. It is as critical that all the parties involved in the conflict, whether it be… whether it be the opposition or the Government or any other armed groups, respect the sanctity of UN premises, especially the Protection of Civilians sites, and also that any of the civilians who are housed and being protected in these camps do not bring in any weapons.
Question: But… and just… I guess as part of just… just to ask, maybe you can get a response from them because I've been unable to, which is that basically it said UNMISS knew about this, sought to search the camp two days before the event, were rebuffed by some Dinka inhabitants of the camp. So I just wanted to know, is it… does UNMISS not have control of these “Protection of Civilians sites”? Is there… are there areas in their camps where they cannot search and…
Spokesman: You know, obviously, they do have control. These are UN camps, but these are camps that are housing thousands and thousands of people. These were not places that were designed for this purpose. The Mission is doing whatever it can with the resources that it has. Carla?
Question: According to The New York Times and the British Guardian, a number of the defectors from North Korea who had denounced human rights abuses there have since retracted their testimony and admitted they lied. And the Security Council is now taking up the issue based upon testimony which has been admittedly false and even discussing referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Now, what credibility does the Security Council have or the UN if they denounce a Government based on lies? And now the sanctions that are being pushed on North Korea, at least the Chinese are concerned, is going to devastate the economy, so you'll have more starvation. And it won't be the result of the Government. It will be the result…
Spokesman: I think on the Security Council, I think that's a question best asked of them. We understand they are discussing new sanctions. I mean, the Secretary‑General would like the discussions to move forward based, obviously, on his previous statements he's made following the nuclear tests conducted by the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of the Korea]. It is also clear, I think, as John Ging said yesterday, that it is important that sanction… any sanctions regime does not make life… does not exacerbate the humanitarian condition of the people. As to whom the Security Council listens to, I think that is a question you need to ask them. Go?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Again, on South Sudan, could you give us a little more details on the Secretary‑General's visit there? Is he supposed to meet both President Kiir and Vice President Machar?
Spokesman: Right now, Riek Machar is not in Juba. The Secretary‑General has no plans to leave Juba. A big focus of his visit will obviously be the visit to the Protection of Civilians sites and to meet with the civilians, with the message to both leaders that it is high time for them to put their differences aside and think of the plight of their people and the plight of their relatively new country, which has now suffered for months and months from this terrible tragedy and has forced displacement, hunger, and more violence.
Question: Does he have any plan to mediation?
Spokesman: I think we'll have to see as it goes. But, as I said, the Secretary‑General has no plans to leave Juba. Oleg?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On the Security Council meeting at 3 p.m., I understand that the thing will be discussed is the plans of Turkey to send… possibly send troops into Northern Syria, as well as Saudi Arabia sending some troops to other parts of Syria. What is the reaction of Ban Ki‑moon to this possible development? I've read the letter he sent to the Security Council. The… on 17 February. And it seems like the only outside player acting on the ground in Syria he mentions is Russia, conducting airstrikes. What about Turkey shelling the Kurdish towns?
Spokesman: I think, you know, we… what the Secretary‑General would like to see and, I think, what Mr. de Mistura would like to see, what we would all like to see, is a de‑escalation of the military activities, of the violence. What we've seen, you know, along the Turkish/Syrian border recently has only complicated the situation and, I think, has made it even more urgent to find a political solution. Any type of conflict along that border, you know, has the potential to spin out of control. And I think it is something that all the parties need to bear in mind. It is… again, there was a… the Secretary‑General, his Special Envoy, and others would like to see a cessation of the violence. We were able to deliver some humanitarian aid. I think it's… the people of Syria want to see an end to this conflict. Yes, go ahead, Sam.
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. We've talked a lot here about airstrikes and Aleppo and other parts of Syria. There was a report on Wednesday or in reference to an airstrike on Tuesday morning in Hasakah governorate allegedly killed 15 civilians, and that would have been… actually a US‑led coalition strike, and there have been subsequent reports that possibly there were additional casualties. This is part of sort of a backing for the Kurdish forces, the ones that are in an alliance there. Does the UN have any information on these airstrikes, any casualties?
Spokesman: I don't have any particular details, but again, to say what we've said before — that any activities against extremist groups, anyone involved in the coalition against Da’esh and other extremist groups needs to take the utmost care to avoid any civilian casualties, any hits on civilian infrastructure. Iftikhar?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Any comments on The New York Times editorial on sexual abuse in the… by the peacekeeping troops and the suggestion that the countries that do not take action against offending troops should be excluded from participating in UN peacekeeping operations?
Spokesman: Well, you know, I think I answered a lot of that the day it appeared, but to say, again, that I think no one is more horrified as to… than the Secretary‑General with every incident of abuse by a peacekeeper, whether that peacekeeper wears a Blue Helmet or any colour helmet. Those people are sent to protect people, not sent to abuse them. We have put a number of measures in place, whether it's shortening the amount of time of investigation, whether it's being proactively naming the soldiers… the countries from which the soldiers come from, which we've done recently, whether it's to repatriate a number of contingents, like we've done in the Central African Republic. What is important is that there is also accountability for those soldiers who are accused of abuse, that the countries where they come from try them, try them swiftly, and in an open process and that there be follow‑up, that people understand what has happened. There will be… there is screening of troops that are coming in. We require that they be… that the contingents be certified, that they've gone through the mandatory training. And it's something the Secretary‑General will not rest until it is eradicated. As the editorial mentions, he's appointed Jane Holl Lute, a veteran of the United Nations and of peacekeeping, to oversee the coordination of implementation of all these measures against sexual abuse. Yeah, go ahead.
Question: Yeah, I… I… I just want to follow up on this plan to do airdrops in Deir Ezzour. Who's on the ground that could take these shipments as… my understanding is that UN doesn't have a presence there at all?
Spokesman: They're working with local humanitarian workers, Syrian Red [Crescent], and others who may still be inside. I think, as you… it is a… really… the airdrops are a last resort, especially in an area that is an active conflict zone. The airdrops need to be done at high altitude. They need to be done with parachute. And we need to ensure… and WFP is working to make sure that they have local contacts on the ground to help with the distribution and to ensure that the airdrops are received by those who they are intended to receive.
Question: If I may follow up one more time. The outside of the town, of the city, is surrounded by ISIS. But inside it's sort of split the control. So, how do you get food… is this going to go to areas that are controlled by the regime? How does it work?
Spokesman: I think they're going to go to where the food is most needed. I will try to get a little bit more granular details from our friends at WFP for you. Matthew, then Masood and then Carla and Oleg.
Question: Okay. Sure. I wanted to ask one follow‑up on this issue. As… you know, since the editorial's been out for a couple of days now, the proposal's pretty clear. I've heard everything that you said, but that countries that do not meet the standard, that do not, in fact, hold accountable those charged with rapes while deployed as UN peacekeepers be barred overall, not particular contingents, not individuals, the country removed from the list of TCCs [troop-contributing countries), and what is the Secretary‑General… given that he could do that without the GA [General Assembly] at the stroke of a pen, what is his response to that proposal?
Spokesman: I think… the struggle against sexual abuse by peacekeepers is one of partnership between the United Nations and the troop contributors. We're working very closely with them. We have responsibility. They have a responsibility. At this point, the policy is on ensuring that the units coming in are certified and, if they do not live up to the standards, that they be repatriated. Obviously, we are not closed to any proposition, and we will be looking at various options as we move forward.
Question: And I wanted to ask you, I've seen a letter that was from three of the… of the existing… the remaining staff union sent to the Secretary‑General and to a variety of other parties complaining that… that… basically of mismanagement of the pension fund, including that new retirees go up to a year, but, in many cases, six months without being paid due to, I guess, computer problems. I've also heard that Umoja has computer problems, that there's no… that people received an e-mail yesterday that you can't pay vendors through Umoja; it has to be through IMIS. So, I want to know, on both… I know there's two separate issues, but the pension one seems pretty serious. What's the response?
Spokesman: On the pension fund, I will look into it. On the second one, I think… you know, Umoja has just been rolled out. It's a massively complex system. There's always going to be teething issues. Frankly, from my own personal experience with it, seems to work, and I've been paid on time, which is also important. So, you know, I think whatever kinks are being ironed out. And I will check on the pension fund. Masood?
Question: Yes, Stéphane, one of the United Nations officials has been cited as saying recently that Yemen is being ignored by the international community, and it is fast becoming what was Bosnia in 1990s. Does the Secretary‑General intend to do anything about that?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General and his Special Envoy have been on the forefront to ensure that Yemen has not been ignored. I mean, I think the… if you had a chance to see Ismail [Ould Cheikh Ahmed], he was briefing the Council earlier this week. We talk about Yemen almost every day from this podium to ensure that no one forgets the plight of the Yemeni people. What has gone on for weeks on end now is a continuing suffering and the continuing military activities. Carla, then Oleg?
Question: Thank you. Does the Secretary‑General have anything to say about the discussions of placement of THAAD missiles in South Korea, which the Chinese Foreign Ministry has said far exceeds the reach of North Korea and would go well into the heartland of Asia, threatening Chinese security and other countries and could lead to an arms race?
Spokesman: I have no particular comment at this point. Oleg, then Matthew, and then we'll bring this show to a close.
Question: Stéphane, did you manage to get the name of the company that will convene airdrops in Deir Ezzour? I tried to reach WFP yesterday, but they didn't get back to me on the name.
Spokesman: Let's see if they get back to me. Matthew?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about… about… in Uganda, obviously, there have been elections, and it's an area right next to where the Secretary‑General will be travelling. Main opposition figure or candidate Kizza Besigye was detained on the day of election. I wanted to know, what's the UN's response to that?
Spokesman: Sure. I mean, obviously, I think the Secretary‑General's very closely following the elections in Uganda, and he does congratulate the voters for their participation. But, also, he's concerned over the reports that we've seen — reports of tensions and violence in some part of the country. And he calls on all political actors and their supporters to continue to exercise their democratic rights responsibly throughout the process, and he trusts that the authorities and all stakeholders will ensure that the fundamental rights and the will of the people of Uganda be respected.
Question: One follow‑up to that. Since… since… in other statements, the Secretary‑General has looked to… to President [Yoweri] Museveni as a mediator on Burundi, where there's a… obviously a significant disagreement about a third term and how it was held. Does the arrest of an opposition figure in Uganda have any… undercut in any way his confidence in that? What's his thinking…?
Spokesman: Mr. Museveni was the envoy for the East African Community. Obviously, the Secretary‑General supports the efforts of the East African Community. As I said, the reports of the arrest of the opposition leaders and the other incidents we've seen are of concern to us. Go, and then that will be it.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. If I'm not wrong, you mentioned that the SG is visiting Turkey; right?
Spokesman: Yes, I did.
Question: So could you tell us what…?
Spokesman: Sure. He is going there to participate in a forum on Somalia, on the Somali political process. And he will also very likely visit one of the camps, refugee camps, along the border of Turkey. And, of course… and have bilateral meetings with senior Turkish officials.
Question: Including President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan?
Spokesman: I don't have the de… as soon as the meetings are confirmed, I'll let you know. Thank you, all. Have a wonderful, wonderful weekend.