The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
We mentioned in a statement yesterday that the Secretary-General had called President Adama Barrow of the Gambia to discuss the latest developments in the country and to congratulate him on his inauguration. The Secretary-General expressed deep concern about the refusal of Yahya Jammeh to step aside and about the high outflow of Gambians into Senegal.
The Secretary-General told President Barrow of his full support for his determination, and ECOWAS’s (Economic Community of West African States) historic decision, with the unanimous backing of the Security Council, to restore the rule of law in the Gambia so as to honour and respect the will of the Gambian people.
The Secretary-General conveyed the readiness of the United Nations system to support President Barrow and his Government in their efforts to promote democracy and achieve sustainable development in the Gambia.
Mohammed Ibn Chambas, head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, is in the Gambia now, along with other regional leaders, seeking to resolve the issue of the transition.
Meanwhile, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reports that around 45,000 people have arrived in Senegal from the Gambia, according to the Senegalese Government. In addition, at least 800 people had crossed into Guinea-Bissau. It is feared that more people may continue to flee as the situation remains tense.
In the past few days, the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, had consulted in Davos with the Secretary-General and with regional officials. He had met with Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Jordan, Iran, Norway, and with the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini. He had also had brief encounters with the King of Belgium, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and many others.
Mr. de Mistura will lead the UN team in Astana, Kazakhstan, next week at the request of the Secretary-General.
The Deputy UN Special Envoy, Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, also travelled recently to Moscow and to Ankara for discussions with the Russian and Turkish Governments in preparation for the Astana meeting and the Geneva negotiations planned for February. He has also been in contact with the Iranian authorities.
The Special Envoy hopes that the efforts to reduce hostilities gradually among signatories would continue and create a conducive environment for the talks in Astana, so as to enable progress towards a sustainable ceasefire. Those steps would be very helpful for the planned convening of intra-Syrian negotiations in February.
And I just wanted to flag that the new Special Representative of the Secretary-General for South Sudan, David Shearer, has arrived in the country to assume his duties. Speaking on arrival, Mr. Shearer indicated that he was arriving with a fresh and open mind and would spend time listening to what various stakeholders had to say. He noted that the South Sudanese people deserve to have a State that is functioning and that looks after them and is stable and provides for their peace and their prosperity. And he said that whatever the UN could do to contribute to that, he would do his best to make sure it happened.
And today we welcome to the Honour Roll, and thank, Liechtenstein and Norway, which have both paid in full their regular budget dues for 2017. This brings to 13 the total number of members on the Honour Roll.
**Noon Briefing Guest
And for guests, on Monday, we will have Toby Lanzer, the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel, as a guest at noon. Mr. Lanzer will brief on the latest developments in Nigeria and Lake Chad.
**Questions and Answers
That’s it. Do we have any questions? Yes?
Question: Sure. I have some other stuff, but I'd wanted to ask… I wanted to ask you, I've seen a… a… and published an e-mail from… instructing UN system staff, in this case at WFP (World Food Programme), to not participate in any variations of the Women's March that's planned for tomorrow in Rome and around the world and citing UN ethics or… or… or impartiality rules as a reason to tell staff not to participate. So I'm wondering, how can it be that this… that… that… that, you know, all levels, including lower‑level staff, are being told not to do this, when you have Under‑Secretaries‑General attending an election night or promoting an election night event with Samantha Power? So what are the rules that apply? And do they apply to all staff members equally?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you don't actually have the latest information. That ruling has shifted just in… and in just the last few minutes, I received the following e-mail from Ertharin Cousin, regarding participation in the Women's March. I'm not going to read the whole thing in full. But one of the things it says is, "The event in Rome is one of many marches being held around the world. As many of you have reminded me in the last few days, being a WFP employee does not mean that you have to give up your personal political views or national perspectives. I, therefore, have no objection to your participation in the March." This is from Ertharin Cousin. "However, consistent with our commitment to impartiality, which applies to us as international civil servants, I ask that you always exercise tact and discretion in your public conduct, and always consider whether your conduct is consistent with the interests of WFP. As such, I see no objections to staff members of WFP participating in the Rome March. Please note, however, that staff members participate in their personal capacity and not as representatives of the Office and should observe the instructions of the organizers and the security forces."
Question: Sure. So I just… I mean, I called WFP about an hour ago, so this obviously happens after that. But the e-mail was by their Ethics Office, so I think, clearly, the two communications show that there's some… there are different interpretations of how these rules apply. And what I'm wondering is, I'd like your opinion of whether an Under‑Secretary‑General attending an election night event by… by the now outgoing US Ambassador was… is consistent with the type of… of impartiality that you described.
Deputy Spokesman: Obviously, each event has to be studied in its own rights. Regarding this, I did check with our own Ethics Office about these particular marches that are taking place in different locations around the world tomorrow. One of the things that our Ethics Office has said is the following: "Taking part in a march to promote women's rights and attempting to make a difference in the civic life of the community is not necessarily inconsistent with the staff member’s status as an international civil servant nor is it in contravention of their oath of office, provided that such participation take place strictly in a personal capacity with no reference to UN affiliation."
Question: Sure. And I… and I… I agree with that it. There's actually a ruling by a staff union saying that people should be able to do it. I just want to… maybe you can ask since you asked the Ethics Office, can you ask them whether an Under‑Secretary‑General attending in Waldorf Towers an election night event sponsored by Samantha Power was consistent with those rules?
Deputy Spokesman: Like I said, I wouldn't characterize any particular incidents. Obviously, every staff member is free to check with the Ethics Office, and we believe that they ought to do so. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Any message to the forty-fifth President of the United States, just sworn in in Washington? And, also, are you concerned about some riots that broke out in Washington during his inauguration?
Deputy Spokesman: Obviously, our hope is for events to be as peaceful as possible, and we certainly hope that, as with any transfer of power, that any such events happen peacefully and any protests are also peaceful in nature. Regarding our words for the incoming President of the United States, as you're aware, the Secretary‑General spoke with him by telephone just a few… just a couple of weeks ago. And so we'll refer you to what was said then. He does look forward to talking with him again after inauguration, and, of course, we hope this is the start of a productive relationship between the United States and the United Nations. Yes?
Question: Yeah, and also on Gambia, do you have any information of any casualties as a result of the military strikes on the country?
Deputy Spokesman: I'm not aware of any actual military operations taking place at this point.
Correspondent: Yeah, but it was happening…
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, we don't have any casualty figures. We're hoping for the situation to be resolved peacefully and in line with the resolution of the Security Council. Yes?
Question: What's your under… I mean, currently, is it your understanding that Yahya Jammeh remains… what is… what's… what's up to the moment the understanding of DPA (Department of Political Affairs) or of the UN Office in West Africa of where things stand? Is he being offered to fly to Guinea or Mauritania? What is the status?
Deputy Spokesman: In order for these discussions to succeed, I don't think I should provide any of the details. The discussions are proceeding now, and we are hopeful for a peaceful outcome.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about Myanmar as well. I know that the Special Rapporteur or… or… is over there, but there's also… there's a very specific report that Rohingya by… by… targeted by ethnicity in a place called Bathadown are told they can no longer purchase food at the bazaar. So this seems like a pretty bizarre and dangerous… I'm just wondering, as the questions mount here, what exactly is DPA… seems like you have a journalist killed; the murderer is released. You have people gone missing, and now you have people based on ethnicity not allowed to buy food. What is the response of the UN Secretariat to these things?
Deputy Spokesman: We have our concerns about the situation, particularly the situation in Rakhine State, and are raising them up with our contacts at a lower level. I do believe the Secretary‑General himself will also be dealing with the matter in the coming days, and once we have more to say on that, we will.
Question: And could I ask… and this may be… I just want to be… I don't want to misreport anything, but I've seen an email from within… within South Sudan basically alleging that the… the… UNMISS (United Nations Mission in South Sudan) base in Nasir allowed SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) soldiers of [Salva] Kiir to use it as a base to attack IO's (in Opposition) forces. And so, since there's a lot of controversy now around, you know, sort of misuse of media or whatever, I'd just like to get a yes‑or‑no answer whether Mr. Christophe Du Toit has, in fact, received these pictures that I'm looking at of SPLA soldiers inside an UNMISS base and how that would be consistent with the impartiality that the mission is claiming?
Deputy Spokesman: We'll have to check with the mission. Have a good afternoon and a good weekend. [He later provided a press release from UNMISS, denying the assertions that were made and saying that the photographs showed a Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism team meeting with SPLA officers in the context of their mandated work under the peace agreement in investigating violations of the ceasefire. The full press release is online.]