The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
As you know, a new report on South Sudan published today by the UN Human Rights Office describes a multitude of horrendous human rights violations, including a Government-operated scorched earth policy, and deliberate targeting of civilians for killing, rape and pillage.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra`ad Al Hussein, said that the situation in South Sudan is one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world. Yet it has been more or less off the international radar, he added.
The full report is available online and, of course, as soon as we are done here, I will be joined by Assistant Secretary-General Ivan Šimonović, who recently returned from a trip to South Sudan, along with David Marshall of the UN Human Rights Office here in New York, who headed a human rights assessment team, sent to the country by the High Commissioner.
Also on South Sudan, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said today that fighting in previously peaceful areas of South Sudan's Western Equatoria state continues to force thousands of people to flee into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Uganda and even the already volatile Central African Republic.
UNHCR hopes to gain access next week to an estimated 7,000 South Sudanese refugees living in desperate conditions in Bambouti, which is located in a difficult to reach area in the easternmost part of the Central African Republic.
The new arrivals in Bambouti outnumber the local population of about 1,500 people, putting a strain on food and water resources. More information is available out of the Geneva briefing.
And finally, still on South Sudan, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and the Department of Field Support (DFS) are convening an Independent High-Level Board of Inquiry to conduct an in-depth investigation into the UN Mission’s response to clashes which broke out in the Mission's protection of civilians (POC) site in Malakal on 17 and 18 February.
The UN Mission is also reviewing enhanced preparedness measures and contingency planning for its Protection of Civilian sites.
At 3 p.m., the Security Council is scheduled to consider a draft resolution concerning sexual exploitation and abuse as a follow-up to yesterday’s meeting.
Today, the heads of the UN humanitarian agencies issued a statement saying that after five years of a brutal and senseless conflict, more than a quarter of a million Syrians have been killed and over half the population has been forced from their homes out of fear and want. Some 4.6 million people are barely existing in places that few can leave and aid cannot reach. A further 4.8 million people have fled the country.
In the past few weeks, the UN humanitarian chiefs add, we are seeing signs of momentum, fragile glimmers of hope. Fewer bombs are falling; humanitarian access has opened up in some places; negotiators from all sides are preparing to come together and talk. Through regular aid and the recent deliveries to besieged towns, humanitarian workers have managed to reach over 6 million people since the beginning of 2016.
However, until all parties to this conflict stop attacking civilians, schools, markets and hospitals, the humanitarian agencies will continue to press them on their obligations and hold them to account. Medical supplies and equipment are still being removed at checkpoints: this is unacceptable. They called once more for parties to the conflict to fully open up safe, unimpeded access to everyone. And they called on all parties for the political talks to bring real peace and an end to the suffering in Syria.
As Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, said this week, the substantive discussions related to the Intra-Syrian Talks are scheduled to begin on Monday at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. Mr. de Mistura will brief the press on Monday at 10 a.m. Geneva time, and you will be able to see that press briefing on the UN webcast, if you wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning, but it will also be archived.
Meanwhile, UNHCR in Iraq is concerned about a rising trend of newly-displaced Iraqis being forcibly transferred to camps where restrictions on their freedom of movement are imposed in a manner disproportionate to any legitimate concern, including those related to security. UNHCR urges the Iraqi Government to set up clear procedures and facilities to undertake security screenings that are separate from camps established to provide shelter and other humanitarian assistance to displaced Iraqis. More information on the UNHCR website.
An update from our colleagues in the political Mission in Libya (UNSMIL): they say that the members of the Libyan Political Dialogue, who today concluded the first day of deliberations in Tunis, have reaffirmed their commitment to uphold the Libyan Political Agreement signed in Morocco on 17 December 2015 as the only and legitimate framework for bringing an end to the political crisis and military conflict in [Libya].
They have appealed to all political and security parties in Libya to uphold the national interests of the country and preserve its sovereignty and unity so that security and stability can prevail, and to ensure that the Libyan people have an opportunity to realize their aspirations for a modern democratic State based on the rule of law and respect for human rights.
Also on Libya, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Ali Al-Za’tari, for that country has called for humanitarian ceasefire and safe exit for civilians trapped in areas of Benghazi where there is currently fighting.
The UN Mission has received reports that many families are trapped in some areas and are facing shortages of electricity, food and medical supplies.
The Humanitarian Coordinator has called upon all warring parties to ensure the safe exit of all civilians who are trapped in these areas and wish to leave. He urges all the parties to allow for humanitarian ceasefires in Benghazi to facilitate the work of humanitarian organization on the ground.
The Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, spoke this morning at the High-Level Forum on Adolescent Girls and the 2030 Agenda.
He paid tribute to girls for their bravery and integrity in the face of injustice and discrimination, adding that it should not take an act of courage for them to go to school.
The girls, who are subject to poverty, early marriage, female genital mutilation, abuse and other violations, hold a great potential for progress in their homes and our world, he stressed.
The Deputy Secretary-General urged for more efforts to allow women and girls to take the lead to find solutions to the problems facing the world’s adolescent girls. When we do, we will see advances on the interrelated imperatives of peace, development and human rights, he added. His speech should be available online.
Just wanted to flag that on Monday, 14 March, the fifty-ninth session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs will open at the UN headquarters in Vienna. The meeting will start with a three-day segment on preparations for the UN General Assembly Special Session on the world drug problem (UNGASS 2016) that will be held next month in this very city of New York.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you. Yesterday, you read out a statement regarding the Iranian missile tests and the statement began by saying that, as of the implementation of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), the previous Security Council sanctions imposed were terminated. So my question is, why didn't the UN, Secretary‑General have any statement to make when Iran tested ballistic missiles in October or November and those prior resolutions were in effect and, in fact, at that time were incorporated by reference into the JCPOA?
Spokesman: I think, on a regular basis in the past, the Secretary‑General has called for Iran to abide by the resolutions that were in place at the time. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I have a couple questions, but I want to ask first about the… I want to return, I guess, to the indictment of John Ashe, and I wanted to ask… I'd asked you before, but I have more to ask about it, that the previous Chief of Staff of John Ashe, Paulette Bethel, is currently the number three official in Mogens Lykketoft's office. And as Chief of Staff, she's listed throughout the indictment and charge sheet in the John Ashe case. So here's what I wanted to ask. I've also become aware that there's requests being made to potential new PGAs (Presidents of the General Assembly), Cyprus and Fiji, to continue her in the employment as a D-2 UN official. Who's in… if a person is a UN staff member but works for the PGA's office, one, what is the status of their immunity from prosecution and testifying? And, two, who can waive that immunity? Is it the Secretary‑General, as with other UN staff, or is there some special status for a UN staff member who works for the PGA's office?
Spokesman: Look, speaking not in relation to the particular case that you mentioned, because her employment and the employment of anybody in the PGA's office is up to the PGA itself, the Secretary‑General has the authority to lift the immunity of any UN staff member.
Question: Does it seem strange to you that some… that someone listed so prominently in the indictment remains on the UN payroll with… can you describe the immunity that… that that obtains? If, for example, the US Attorney's Office wanted to speak to a Chief of Staff who went to Macau, who was involved in all of these actions…
Spokesman: I'm not going to speak to… I can't speculate…
Question: D-2, D-2 generally.
Spokesman: I can't speculate to the case. I don't… I'm not privy to anything that the US Attorney may or may not be doing. What is clear is that anyone, as far as I know, under the rank of Assistant Secretary‑General, which would include D-2s, such as myself, carries functional immunity. As a matter of principle, immunity is not there to block any criminal investigation. Maggie?
Question: Steph, anything on Mr. de Mistura's smaller conversations that he's having in the lead‑up to Monday? Any updates or… any updates on who's arrived?
Spokesman: No. I think he will… that will be clearer tomorrow, obviously, when he talks to the press tomorrow at 10. Obviously, I think he's…
Question: Tomorrow? You said Monday.
Spokesman: Did I say Monday? You know, the weekend doesn't exist for me. So… [laughter] The next working day. Obviously, there are warm‑up conversations going now. We can see. There are any more details. I will let Mr. de Mistura take the lead on communicating.
Question: And just one other small thing. Has Jane Holl Lute started yet officially?
Spokesman: Yes, in fact… well, she's officially being sworn in on Monday, if I'm not mistaken. Sherwin?
Question: Steph, what was the Secretary‑General's reaction… I know you mentioned the High Commissioner's… you quoted from the High Commissioner's statement. What was the Secretary‑General's reaction to this report on South Sudan?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General is as horrified by what he saw in the report as any of us should be in reading the gruesome details of human rights violations in South Sudan. What is important from the Secretary‑General's point of view is that those responsible be held to account and to obviously restart the political process, the political reconciliation. Over and over again, his message to both leaders in South Sudan has been for them to put their personal animosity, their personal goals aside and reunite for the sake of people of South Sudan. We have seen what months and months and months of conflict [have] left South Sudan with — what, basically, I think, the report calls a scorched earth policy.
Question: Given that a number of reports now have referred to the… to the highest echelons in the Sudanese leadership on both sides as having some culpability in terms of the violence we are seeing there, does he believe in the continued leadership of the two principals in the situation?
Spokesman: Look, I think it is for the people of South Sudan to decide on who will lead the country, but what is clear is that the leaders have a direct responsibility for what is done by those who report to them. Sir, please. Yes, you. Oleg?
Question: Stéphane, thank you. In the last report on Lebanon, Ban Ki‑moon is talking about almost daily violations by Israel of the Lebanese airspace. And once again, the report calls for respect for the Security Council resolution. But it's clear that these calls do not work. Are there any efforts taken to pursue the respect for the resolutions?
Question: Well, I think… you know, I think all the parties know what their responsibilities are under the resolution. The Secretary‑General's responsibility is to report on the violations as he sees them. Obviously, this is an issue that is being brought to the attention of the Israeli authorities at various levels by the UN. Evelyn?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Nice to be back here again. The… there's mounting evidence among NGOs and others in Syria that the UN knew about Madaya and… well before it… it spoke about the horrible, horrible situation, not just Madaya, but accompanying besieged areas. So are there any other really horrible besieged areas that the UN cannot reach and could speak about?
Spokesman: I think there are about… from what I remember seeing a few minutes ago, about 4.6 million people who are in hard‑to‑reach areas. I think all those places, we're talking about various degrees of horror. I don't think one would want to rank which area is worse than the other. The Syrian people, especially those in those hard‑to‑reach areas, have suffered and have suffered enough. Yes, and then Mr. Lee.
Question: Thank you. Is there any comment from Secretary‑General to the letter of representative of Greek Cypriot side? You said maybe you would…
Spokesman: If there is a response, I will let you know, but none that I'm aware of. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Some others ones, but I want to be sure to ask this one because it impacts my ability to report on things. I wanted to ask you, yesterday evening, I was working in the UN… in the lobby. At 8:00 I was editing a video of, in fact, yesterday's noon briefing there, and I was told by security that I had to leave. I was marched out and left the building. And I wanted to know, since I've heard you and Ms. [Cristina] Gallach make various representations about this pass, what is the rules… what are the rules about that? What… what… on what authority… I've seen other non‑resident correspondents staying and working in the building past 8:00. Why did this happen?
Spokesman: Well, frankly, I think if you read the media accreditation liaison rules on non‑resident correspondents, which you agreed to when you signed for the new pass, it's pretty clear that it says that non‑resident correspondents are allowed in the building between 8 and 7 p.m. unless there's obviously… unless there is a meeting going on. The fact is by 8:00 p.m. there were no more meetings going on. I don't think it is our responsibility to find a place for you to work once the meetings are [not] going on. You also have access to the bullpen, which may be more comfortable than a wooden bench in the lobby, but that's your decision. The point is that you have access to this press conference room, to the stakeouts, but it's not my responsibility to find you a comfortable place to work after working hours. [cross talk]
Question: I'm not asking about comfort. I'm asking about… I've been in the bullpen. There have been people there since 8:00, so I feel like I'm being targeted by security based on my reporting
Spokesman: The rules… [cross talk] The rule's that non‑resident correspondents are allowed to stay in the building after 7 p.m. if they are accompanied or sponsored by a resident correspondent.
Question: Next question. Next question. Yesterday there was a meeting on counter‑terrorism in South Asia that took place… either ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) or Trusteeship. I'm not sure since I couldn't go to it. The Sri Lankan… a justice of the Supreme Court spoke. And so I've been told by Ms. Gallach and you that I can cover all the events that any other correspondent can cover, but I was unable to stake this meeting out or to speak to the Sri Lankan minister. How is it you said from the podium that I can… [cross talk]
Spokesman: If you have an issue, you can always go to MALU (Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit), and I'm sure they can find you an escort.
Question: That's a minder. In fact, anyone that I speak to, this office can…
Spokesman: It's not a minder.
Question: Yes, it is.
Spokesman: It's an escort.
Question: One last thing on this event, this event that took place right now, I want to know, there was a stakeout… this was an event at the Security Council and yet the door for non‑resident correspondents was locked, was not open, but I was told, in candour, that…
Spokesman: Matthew, were you there?
Question: Yeah, exact… and I want to know. [cross talk]
Spokesman: Next question.
Correspondent: I filmed the turnstile, and the guy said he's going to file another complaint against me. I'm asking you. [cross talk]
Spokesman: Next question?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane, on issue of a comfort woman, when South Korea and Japan reached an agreement last year, at the end of last year, SG welcomed the agreement. I'm just trying to see if… has there been any changes in his…?
Spokesman: No, I think the… as you know, the Secretary‑General will be meeting with an organisation that represents the comfort women, including one of the survivors. That meeting will take place in the East Lounge later this afternoon. And I guess, the Secretary‑General, we've said here on his behalf that we hope for the faithful implementation of the agreement that was signed between the Republic of Korea and Japan and that it be guided by the recommendations of human rights mechanism [that] will help such wounds to be healed.
Question: Right. So just to clarify, he still welcomes that agreement between…
Spokesman: Yes, exactly. And I think it's very much… He also wants the well‑being and the compassion of the victims to be taken into account. Yes, sir?
Question: Following up. Will it be the first time for SG to meet the comfort women?
Spokesman: You know, it's a very good question to which I should have been prepared to have an answer to. I don't want to speculate. I will check. Mr. Klein and then Mr. Lee and then we'll go to our guest.
Question: Yes. Prince Zeid recently criticised the FBI's legal action against Apple to try to get Apple to devise a way to get… overcome the encryption in the cellular device that was allegedly used by terrorists in San Bernardino. I was wondering whether the Secretary‑General agrees with Prince Zeid's criticism or would see this as interference in the internal affairs of the United States.
Spokesman: I think the High Commissioner for Human Rights has an independent mandate, which it is his place to comment on such things. I think generally the Secretary‑General would always hope for a balance between security and the preservation of basic rights. Yes?
Question: Thank you. Thank you, Stéphane. It seems that the SG has a completely new language on Western Sahara. Does this mean that he hasn't been saying what he really believes in for eight years, or… or is this a trend because this is his last year in the UN that he's going to speak his mind more often and more clearly?
Spokesman: I don't agree with that you that it's a completely new language. I think the Secretary‑General has said he would have wanted to go to Rabat. It wasn't possible because of the dates. He went to Tindouf. He went to Bir Lehlou to see the MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara) outpost. I think his message was one of… I think that was faithful to the Security Council resolutions and encouraging the parties to get back to finding a mutually acceptable political solution. I think his language hasn't really changed. I think the Secretary‑General was very marked by what he saw in the refugee camp in Tindouf, and I think put the humanitarian message really also at… very much at the centre.
Question: So do you mean that he hasn't been, like, aware of what has been happening in the camps or…
Spokesman: I think he's been very much aware, but I think it is one thing to be aware and it's one thing to see it for yourself. But I would… I do not think it is a full change in his language.
Question: So how do you describe his relationship with Morocco now? Obviously, the last statement came out yesterday from the Moroccan mission…
Spokesman: I think the dialogue continues. The Permanent Representative of Morocco has been in touch with various people here, and we're in… we're talking. Okay.
Question: And I would like… last question. Sorry. I would like to know your reaction, because the statement that came out from the Moroccan mission last night says that the SG's position may be a threat or may undermine or hurt the political process on Western Sahara. What's your reaction?
Spokesman: I think, you know, the Secretary‑General reiterated… has been reiterating his call for negotiations in good faith and without preconditions. The objective of restarting these negotiations in a more positive spirit is to provide hope to these people and to enable them to return home. But I think the Secretary‑General's objective has not changed. Okay. Carla and George, and then we'll go to our guests.
Spokesman: They've been waiting for almost an hour.
Correspondent: …Ségolène Royal?
Question: One general question. There was such celebration when South Sudan gained its independence. What is the explanation for the ongoing catastrophic conditions in that country in such a brief period?
Spokesman: I mean, the explanations are pretty simple. It's disagreement between two leaders, which has taken their people down into various deep circles of hell. George. And then we'll go to our guests. I can take some questions afterwards.
Question: A last question on Western Sahara, if I may. Has the Secretary‑General attempted to go to Laayoune or anywhere else within the actual territory of Western Sahara? I think Tindouf is in one of the… [cross talk]
Spokesman: He went to an outpost… Bir Lehlou, one of the MINURSO outposts.
Correspondent: Question on Western Sahara?
Spokesman: I will go…
Question: Do you have an answer on the two press statements, English and French?
Spokesman: No. But I… we're working on it.