The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Happy New Year!
In case you didn’t know, we do have a new Secretary-General. As of 1 January, António Guterres took over as the ninth Secretary-General of these United Nations.
As you will have seen, right after taking office, he issued a statement appealing for peace and asking that 2017 be a year for peace.
The new Secretary-General spoke to staff as he entered UN Headquarters this morning. He told them he was proud to be their colleague once more.
The Secretary-General said there is no way in which today’s challenges can be solved in a country-by-country basis, so this is the moment in which we have to assert the value of multilateralism. There are many accomplishments for which the UN should be proud, he said, adding that we also need to be able to recognize our shortcomings, to recognize our failures and to recognize situations in which we are not able to deliver as much as we should for the people we care for.
He told staff that the only way to be able to achieve our goals is to really work together as a team, and to serve the noble values enshrined in the Charter, which are the values that unite humankind. We hope to share that transcript with you shortly.
Turning to Syria, the UN continues to be concerned with the 116,000 people that have been registered as displaced from formerly non-Government controlled neighbourhoods of eastern Aleppo. The scale of destruction in Aleppo is massive and needs enormous help, including such things as health care, water and sanitation, education systems, housing and shelter, electricity and livelihood help. In the meantime, the UN and its partners are working closely with the Government to respond to the most urgent needs.
We urge donors to provide immediate and long-term support to the more than 100,000 highly vulnerable people in Aleppo, so they can continue to receive life-saving assistance and help.
And we hope tomorrow to bring you by phone Sajjad Malik, who is the Acting Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria. So we will try to have him piped in from Aleppo tomorrow, if all goes well.
On Iraq, military operations to retake the city of Mosul from Da’esh have intensified since 29 December, with the start of an apparent second phase to retake the city causing more than 13,000 people to flee the city in just five days.
The average daily displacement numbers have increased by nearly 50 per cent since military operations intensified, some 1,600 to more than 2,300 displaced per day. In total, nearly 130,000 people are now displaced from Mosul and surrounding areas due to the fighting.
Humanitarian assistance continues to be distributed into newly accessible neighbourhoods in the eastern part of Mosul city. Over 1,000 cubic metres of water are being trucked daily and food and non-food items have reached people in four neighbourhoods which have not been serviced since before by international humanitarian partners.
And I was asked about Burundi, and I just wanted to add that we do condemn the assassination of Mr. Emmanuel Niyonkuru, the Burundian Minister of Water, the Environment, and Planning, which took place on 1 January. We express our sincere condolences to his family, the Government and people of Burundi.
This act serves as another sad reminder of the urgent need for the Burundian parties to come together in the larger interest of the people of Burundi in the search of a lasting political solution for the crisis in the country.
To that end, the UN stands ready to continue working with partners in support of the Facilitation led by the East African Community.
**Sustainable Development Goals
I also want to flag that, just before leaving office last December, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed 15 eminent scientists and experts to draft the Global Sustainable Development Report.
The report is a key component of the mechanism to follow-up and review progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.
The report is expected to be published in 2019. If you’re interested, there is a press release in my office.
Today at 5 p.m. the Permanent Representative of Sweden, Olof Skoog, as the new President of the Security Council for January 2017, will be here to present his programme of work to you.
And we are happy to see money continuing to come into the regular budget for 2016. Angola is the most recent with full payment, bringing up the total number of paid-up Member States to 145.
And today, of course, we will start the ball rolling for the 2017 Honour Roll. From now on, we will just flag those countries that are contributing to the 2017 budget.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Happy New Year to you and all employees of the United Nations.
Spokesman: Thank you.
Question: My question is regarding Aleppo. I understand that many people are returning to the city. How are they treated when they come back? And how is… what’s the United Nations doing to them?
Spokesman: Well, obviously, the UN, through its humanitarian partners on the ground, including the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, is trying to bring whatever humanitarian help they can bring to people who are in the city who may be returning, and we’re working to that end.
Question: Do they face any risks when they return?
Spokesman: I’m not in a position to speak to the security situation. Obviously, the situation in Syria remains what it is. Mr. Abbadi.
Question: But you have… you have observers there… [inaudible]
Spokesman: I’ll come back to you. I answered as best I could. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. You said the Secretary‑General intends to make the year of 2017 the year of peace. How would he do that?
Spokesman: I think, for him, the priority is a surge in diplomacy for peace, in preventive diplomacy, in trying to end the conflicts that exist, being done in partnership, obviously, with Member States, and also looking at how the UN Secretariat, UN as a whole, can be… the work can be improved and changed to make… to enable us to deliver what people expect us to deliver in a more efficient manner. Michelle?
Question: Thanks, Steph. Has the Secretary‑General spoken with any world leaders since midnight on Saturday? And, if yes, with whom? And any plans for him to speak with the US President‑elect?
Spokesman: We’ll update you on phone calls as I’m informed of them. I don’t have an update to share with you at this point.
Question: And no plans to speak with Donald Trump at this point?
Spokesman: We’ll announce things as… when they happen, as opposed to plans. But, obviously, he will be making a round of phone calls. Pam?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Is there any comment… has the Secretary‑General made any comment about what is reported to be an impending missile launch or intercontinental missile capability of North Korea?
Spokesman: No. Kahraman?
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. We hear about Cyprus negotiations resuming, perhaps. What is the Secretary‑General doing on that? Is there any upcoming meeting here in New York or in Geneva?
Spokesman: No, as you know, there will be a meeting in Cyprus… on Cyprus on the 12th in Geneva, which will bring together the guarantor powers and other relevant parties to negotiate an agreement on the more highly sensitive issues that remain outstanding. Obviously, the Secretary‑General is extremely supportive of this process and will support in whatever way he can. Matthew?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about… on… you had this statement on Burundi. So I wanted to, I guess, ask or re-ask some of the things I’d asked you between Christmas and New Year’s. One is, has… there was an order by the Government to severely crack down on any “foreign NGOs” (non-governmental organizations). And then today there’s an order that a longstanding Burundian NGO, ITEKA, has been outlawed. So I wanted to know if the UN has any comment on that. Also the President [Pierre] Nkurunziza statement that he may run for President again in 2020. And, finally, in the budget committee on 23 December, the posts that were proposed by Ban Ki‑moon for the Special Adviser in Burundi were, in fact, not funded, nor the police, and I wanted to know, what was his comment on that? And what will the new Secretary‑General do to follow through?
Spokesman: What I can tell you on Burundi that we, obviously, deeply regret the decision by the National Assembly of Burundi to adopt a law restricting activities of international non‑governmental organizations, including the imposition of registration and reporting requirements, as well as limitations on the ability of such organizations to hire and pay staff. We’re concerned that the enactment of this law could impede or even threaten the continued free operation of important organizations that are working to assist the Burundian people. On the statements by President Nkurunziza, we have no specific state… comment at this time.
Question: I guess when… it seems like you may be a couple of news cycles behind, because today this longstanding forum by a former leader of the country, a group called ITEKA, has itself been outlawed so…
Spokesman: I think we… obviously, as you could tell from what I’ve just said, we are obviously extremely supportive of civil society and the need for a civil society and NGOs to operate freely.
Question: What about the post…? [inaudible]
Spokesman: I don’t have anything on that. Iftikhar?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The Secretary… new Secretary‑General has taken over amidst many crises and lingering old disputes in Asia, Africa, and he must have set some priorities. Which problem he’s going to deal with first?
Spokesman: You know, I… we’re not in the business of ranking the most pressing issues, because, obviously, that ranking obviously depends on where you’re sitting and those people who are suffering from these ongoing conflicts. I think, as he said in his message on New Year’s Day, in too many places throughout the world, people are suffering either through man‑made disasters or through other issues. He will focus on trying to meet the expectations that the people of the world have on this organization. Mr. Klein?
Question: Yeah. Two questions. First of all, in… have you discussed or is the new Secretary‑General considering more frequent, full‑blown press conferences in this room than we experienced before?
Spokesman: You’d like that? [laughter]
Question: I’ve always liked that. Is that something, you’d take this up? [inaudible]
Spokesman: I know. I think, let’s let him be settled, but I think, as you probably have seen from observing his career for the last… more than the last 10 years, he’s very… he holds a number of press conferences on a regular basis. So we will let you know as soon as we can.
Question: Second… secondly, on a more substantive issue, on Syria, to what extent is the UN able to monitor on the ground the status of the ceasefire? And do you have any information as to the… its current status, whether it’s holding?
Spokesman: You know, we don’t have any official monitoring role in the ceasefire. We, obviously, have seen a number of cases of the violations, but we have no official way… no official role in determining the validity of the ceasefire. Erol?
Question: Yes, thank you. Thank you, Steph. Happy New Year. Somehow the follow‑up to Mr. Iftikhar’s question. We remember when Ban Ki‑moon came, he said, my absolute priority… first came into office, my absolute priority is Sudan. That’s not South Sudan.
Spokesman: Darfur. Okay. About Sudan. And we also witnessed now that many news reports and analysis and everything is going in the direction to define the… not just priority but the challenges ahead of these new Secretary‑General. Have you discussed with him what is his challenge that he’s considered the most challenging, and what can you tell us about that?
Spokesman: You know, again, I would refer you to what he said on 1 January.
Question: But that’s only call for peace, I would say.
Spokesman: I think that the challenge is to make this year a year for peace. That’s what he will be looking at. Obviously, as the days and the weeks pass in January, I think you will hear more directly from the Secretary‑General, and you will hear from him first-hand his priorities in more detail. Giampaolo?
Question: Stéphane, does Staffan de Mistura has a role to play at this stage in Syria?
Spokesman: Mr. de Mistura continues to play the role as Special Envoy on Syria serving the Secretary‑General. Mercedes and then Margaret.
Question: Following up on the frequency of press conferences, the new Secretary‑General met this morning with the staff. And I wonder if he’s planning to meet with the press corps.
Spokesman: We hope to have a walk‑about on the 3rd and 4th Floors before the end of the week so he can press the flesh and meet you, and I’m sure he’s delighted at this idea. [laughter] Margaret?
Question: Happy New Year’s, Steph. Just following up on Giampaolo’s question, can you tell us what the difference will be between the talks that de Mistura still plans to have on 8 February? And then there’s the Russian‑Turkish talks. So are these going to become sort of competing talks or are they different goals…?
Spokesman: No, we’re not seeing the talks in Astana as competing talks; rather, as part of the same supportive process that will lead to the talks in Geneva. We’ve always been supportive of people bringing the parties together as a way station to getting them to Geneva and to UN talks. Stefano?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. About the challenges of the new Secretary, President‑elect Trump, when he didn’t like Security Council resolution, he said that the UN is… he was feeling sorry for the UN and say there was a place where people just had good time and things has to change. Now, being the United States, the largest contributor to the… to the budget of the UN and important country with the Security Council… in the Security Council, would the Secretary‑General intend to reply to when he’s going to talk with the President‑elect about this… his statement that I will say is quite a very harsh statement?
Spokesman: One of the things that we’ve seen the President‑elect say is, he’s talked about the great potential of the United Nations, and I think our role is, obviously, to work to make that potential into a reality. There’s, obviously, room for intense cooperation between the UN and the US. The US is obviously, as you know, the largest contributor to the United Nations. The US has always been committed to United Nations reform, and we look forward to working with the new Administration in that way. Yes? In the back and then Edie. Go ahead.
Question: Thank you. On the Syrian talks in Astana, is the UN going to be represented there in anyhow?
Spokesman: Let me… not at Mr. de Mistura’s level as far as I know, but I will check and get back to you. Edie?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Two questions. First, on the new Secretary‑General, is he going to have any other public appearances tomorrow or Thursday or Friday? And, secondly, could you give us an update on what’s happening with the Yemen talks?
Spokesman: Your second question is a very good question, and I wish I had something to share with you, but I don’t. On the Secretary‑General’s appointments for the rest of the week, we’re still trying to get a little clarity on those, but as I mentioned, we hope to bring him around the 3rd and 4th Floor to meet you guys before the end of the week. Today, he met with the President of the General Assembly, the President of the [Economic and Social] Council, and obviously, the incoming President of the Security Council for the month of January. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Secretary‑General António Guterres has been appointed for five years’ mandate. Would you serve the entire mediate… mandate? What is the information regarding your status?
Spokesman: I appreciate it. I… my… I’ve been asked to serve for an initial… for a period of six months, which I will do, and then maybe the parole board will meet and grant me freedom. [laughter] But we will see. But I take it one day at a time, as I think everybody who works for the Secretary‑General. And it’s a privilege to be able to do this again and even a privilege to be able to face you again. Pam?
Question: Welcome back then. Steph, is there any plan for the DSG (Deputy Secretary-General), Amina Mohammed, to meet with the press?
Spokesman: No. She’s not officially taken over. She’ll be back, if I’m not mistaken, early next month. But she’s not officially taken over yet. Matthew?
Correspondent: Does it mean that Mr. [Jan] Eliasson is still…?
Spokesman: No, no.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, on Myanmar, as I’m sure you’ve seen, there’ve been, over the last week or so, demolitions of houses and now a film or video has come out of police beating Rohingya. So I wanted to know… I’d asked you, I guess, between Christmas and New Year, is Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar staying on? Is there any future for this good offices approach?
Spokesman: No, as far as I understand, Mr. Nambiar’s term has come to an end. As for the future of the office, I will get back to you. We’ve obviously seen those reports. We’re looking into them, and they are of concern to us.
Question: Right. Because I saw… there’s report of a letter by a local… I guess his name is Mr. Carter, writing for the UN, saying that the demolition of the homes would… would inflame… inflame, but it wasn’t clear whether this was an official UN correspondence or what it is… [inaudible]
Spokesman: I’ve answered to the best of my ability. [inaudible]
Question: I also wanted… I’d also asked you on Gambia… I know that there have been a lot of statements before the holiday, but has Sam Sarr, the previous Deputy Permanent Representative, officially registered himself as a Permanent Representative? Because something was taped saying his opponent should be killed.
Spokesman: I don’t know. We can check with the protocol office. Nick?
Question: Steph, I wonder if you can offer us some guidance on what immediate changes we’ll notice between this Secretary‑General and his predecessor.
Spokesman: I think that’s a question that I should be asking you. [laughter] I think there… you know, I don’t mean to be to be trite. They’re obviously two different people who come with different experience. This Secretary‑General has spent the last… almost the last 10 years of his professional life as a great humanitarian. I think, as he said, he would not be Secretary‑General had it not been for his 10 years as head of the Refugee Agency, being responsible to protect the world’s most vulnerable people. And to… and I think the… you know, my sense is that partly his frustration in not being able to really change the dynamic to bring peace, because that’s why people… refugees are on the move, I think, has pushed him and has led him to become Secretary‑General. I… in my experiences for speaking for three Secretaries‑General, I try to avoid compare‑and‑contrast questions. Maybe that’s why I’m still here. [laughter] Nizar?
Question: Yeah. Going back to Aleppo and Damascus, Damascus has been cut off water for over 10 days now. Is the United Nations doing anything to help the more than 5 million people, inhabitants there?
Spokesman: Yes, we understand that a number of water facilities were apparently deliberately targeted. Since…
Question: By whom?
Spokesman: We don’t have the forensic capability nor the mandate to determine that, but we’ve seen both… my understanding, both bombs and sabotaging of wells. I think our focus is obviously on trying to help the more than 5 million people who have been without direct access to fresh water since 22 December due to the fighting in Wadi Barada. It’s… you know, any lack of water, I think, is obviously a humanitarian emergency. And, obviously, contaminated… a lack of fresh water leads to waterborne diseases, particularly among children. As part of our response in Syria, the UN has already rehabilitated and equipped a number of wells in and around Damascus to cover about one third of daily water needs in the city. Since the 22nd, those wells have been the sole source of water for the entire city of Damascus.
Question: On the observation of a ceasefire in Aleppo and other areas, when… we understand that there were more than 100 observers ready to go into the city. Has anyone moved in…?
Spokesman: I think there have been observers. The observers that we had sent had to do really with observing the people being evacuated from East Aleppo into West Aleppo.
Question: Sorry. Follow‑up on that. No one went into Eastern Aleppo so far, you are saying. Right?
Spokesman: No, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying the focus was on observing the humanitarian… helping… observing the people leaving the city. It was not on observing the ceasefire.
Question: But you have now observers on the ground.
Spokesman: We’ve had… we’ve gained some access to parts of the city that are now under Government control. Joe?
Question: Yeah. You had said previously that the UN does not have itself, on the ground in Syria, the capacity to monitor the ceasefire throughout the country. Am I correct?
Spokesman: We don’t have the mandate to monitor the ceasefire. Obviously, we have people on the ground, but our role is not to…
Question: Well, wasn’t there… wasn’t there a mandate… and it didn’t specify how the ceasefire came about. Wasn’t there a mandate for the UN to monitor the ceasefire contained in the Security Council resolution that was passed in December of 2015 [sic]? I mean, that was part of the road map and…
Spokesman: Things have unfortunately evolved… [loud noise] [laughter] Who was that? What was that? [laughter] No, I… things have evolved since then. I’m just… can only talk about the issue… [inaudible]
Question: But is there any contingency planning to form a monitoring… [inaudible]
Spokesman: Obviously, we would need a mandate, and the observing of ceasefire, as I said right now, is not our primary focus. Our primary focus is on humanitarian aid. Kahraman?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. We all heard the Secretary‑General speak about the refugees and, in the instance of Turkey, he thanked the Turkish people and Turkey for hosting millions. Now that he’s the Secretary‑General, he started his term, what is he going to do to make sure that the world shares the responsibility, the burden?
Spokesman: I think it’s a message he will continue to push out and… to all those Member States concerned. It’s clear to everyone that the responsibility for caring for refugees is not evenly spread out around the region and around the world. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. I want to ask about Washington and also record retention. Washington, there… there… as you may know, on Thursday, there’s a vote set in the House of Representatives concerning the United Nations. And there’s a lot of talk also of defunding the United Nations. So I’m just wondering, can you give a general sense of what the incoming Secretary‑General… has he… forget the President‑elect but actual Congress, has… what… what is the… the presence of the UN as these votes take place in the coming days and weeks?
Spokesman: Obviously, we’re watching what is going on in the Congress and in Washington. As I said, we very much appreciate the support and the funding, the American Government, the American taxpayers, have given the UN throughout its history. But I’m not going to go into any further details before a vote has, in fact, been taken, anything’s been signed.
Question: And I wanted to ask you about, earlier… Staffan de Mistura had said at one point to us at the stakeout that he was going to reach out to the Trump team. Then he said later that he wasn’t going to talk about that anymore. And I wanted to ask you a direct question. Is it true that Jeffrey Feltman informed UN Special Envoys not to themselves reach out to any member of the Trump team but to work entirely through him for that purpose?
Spokesman: No. I’m not aware of any such order being issued. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. You said earlier that the Secretary‑General will work for peace using preventive diplomacy and negotiation as a basis. You also said that he would like the Secretariat to deliver more and better product. Does he… did he give any early indications about restructuring the Secretariat?
Spokesman: No, I think this… you know, changes that will be made will be made… obviously announced as they happen. He had a good meeting with the EOSG (Executive Office of the Secretary-General) staff this morning. I think what’s important for him is that the Executive Office of the Secretary‑General be there to… not to supplant the work of the different parts of the Secretariat or the system, not to be operational, but to be there to empower and draw upon the work done by the line departments. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. On this… well, actually, before record retention, I just wanted to ask one question. The… over the holiday, there was stories in a number of publications but including The New York Times about the outstanding Ng Lap Seng bribery case. And I wanted to know, among the issues on which the Secretary‑General either briefed the new Secretary‑General or… what’s his understanding of the case? Has he been briefed on it? Does he intend to take any different approach in terms of providing records to the prosecution?
Spokesman: I have no comment on this particular case.
Question: On the records thing, I’d sent you this one. In South Sudan, the… one of the troop-contributing countries had said that it destroyed all of its records from June and July when the violence took place in Juba. So this would seem to be a problem in terms of looking into how civilians were killed. So what is the… what is the UN’s policy on retaining records for… [inaudible]
Spokesman: There’s… the records retention policy is outlined in the relevant Security Council bulletins.
Question: And the records of Ban… this is the last thing I wanted to ask you. Ban Ki‑moon, I know that, during the John Ashe case, the issue came up of where did his records go? Why were there no records? Did he take them with him when he left? The Secretary‑General’s records, which of the records remain in the possession of the UN so that they could be…
Spokesman: The official records remain in the possession of the UN.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I would like to ask about the language of your statements, the daily statements that come out from the SG’s office. We are used to certain language, which we… I think most of the journalists, we report every day, and that… I think it was used in 90 per cent of the statements that express concerns or condemnation or etc. Would the new SG consider a new language more specific, more detailed? Would he change this language in his daily statements?
Spokesman: I think you may… you may see some changes and wait and see, as we say. Nizar and then Edie.
Question: Yeah, going back to Aleppo since, I mean, the evacuation is finished and many people are returning. Did you… did the United Nations spot any serious or accused malnutrition among the population who left Aleppo or any sign of… they were deprived of food…
Spokesman: What we are seeing is a large number of highly vulnerable people who are in urgent need of humanitarian aid. I can try to get you some more granular information from our colleagues at OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) if you’d like.
Question: But in comparison, for example, to Foah, Kefraya, Madaya, or Yemen.
Spokesman: Gentlemen, gentlemen. Thank you. Again, I’m not in the business of comparing whose suffering is greater within Syria. What I can tell you is there are a large number of people in Aleppo who are in need of urgent humanitarian aid.
Question: According to the videos that emerged from Eastern Aleppo, there were a lot of warehouses filled with food, which were not distributed. [inaudible]
Spokesman: Listen, I can only tell you, as we say, what we see with our own eyes and what is reported to me. Edie?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. There’s been criticism in some quarters in Colombia about United Nations’ observers dancing with some female guerrillas that the…
Question: …guerrillas who they were overseeing in the police… in the peace deal in Colombia at a jungle outpost on New Year’s Eve. I’ve wondered whether you had any comment on that.
Spokesman: Sorry, sorry, didn’t mean to… [laughter] No, we’re… our colleagues in the mission in Colombia are very much aware of the case. They’re not happy with what we’ve… they’re not happy with what they’ve seen, and corrective actions will be taken. Sorry. Go ahead.
Correspondent: Just what I have whispered with my colleague Ahmed.
Spokesman: Thank you for sharing. Yes. [laughter]
Question: Right. Actually, can you put some more light, again, of course, about the Under‑Secretary‑Generals. I just received that questions today… that question today, when they are going… how they’re going to be appointed, in which period of time, etc.
Spokesman: I think from what I’ve gathered and what I think we said is most of their contracts are extended through March. The Secretary‑General is committed to as transparent as possible process in naming his new team. I think we can expect public vacancies to be put online once the process gets under way. But I would not look for anything this week on that. Yes, sir?
Question: Yeah, going back to Yemen, the humanitarian situation is getting worse and worse, of course. The bombardment, even including cluster bomb use, over cities in Yemen is… is reported in many cases. Will Yemen be a priority for the Secretary‑General, especially that the situation there is very worse…? [inaudible]
Spokesman: As I said, I think every area that needs peace will be a priority. Thank you.