The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. Welcome to a wonderful Monday.
The Secretary-General, as you know, has been in Addis Ababa for the African Union Summit since the weekend. This morning, during the opening session, he said he joined that Summit in profound solidarity and respect, and with a deep sense of gratitude as African countries provide the majority of UN peacekeepers around the world. They are among the world’s largest and most generous hosts of refugees and include some of the world’s fastest growing economies. He also said he wanted to work with African countries in better preventing crises and countering and preventing violent extremism and terrorism.
But, prevention is not only about conflicts, he added, stressing that the most efficient prevention for sustaining peace is inclusive and sustainable development, in order to provide youth with opportunities and hope. The Secretary-General met with a series of Heads of State and Government on the margins of the Summit, as well as with the outgoing Chairperson of the African Union, whom he thanked for her efforts to promote Africa’s socio-economic transformation.
On Sunday, you will have seen that the Secretary-General participated in a high-level event on South Sudan. We issued a joint statement from the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, known as IGAD, and the UN summarizing this meeting. Also on Sunday, the Secretary-General said during a high-level event on the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia that supporting the country in its efforts to cope with a new drought was a matter of justice, as Ethiopia has been constantly building its resilience to natural disasters and climate change.
And still on the humanitarian front, the Secretary-General announced the allocation of $100 million to underfunded emergencies from the Central Emergency Response Fund, most of them in Africa. There are more details in a press release from our colleagues at Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Before leaving Addis, he met with the press gathered at the African Union. We should have the transcript available to you shortly.
An update on Syria: on Sunday, a local agreement was reportedly reached in Wadi Barada in Syria, resulting in a number of fighters and their family members leaving the Wadi Barada area to Idleb. Today, Syrian water authorities and Syrian Arab Red Crescent technical teams gained access to the Ain al Fijeh spring to assess the infrastructure damage and start emergency repairs to resume the provision of water to Damascus. The Syrian Minister of Water Resources announced that water samples are being tested and that the damage observed is considerable, including to electronic devices.
The UN stands ready to support the Syrian water authorities and the Red Crescent to ensure the swift repair of the infrastructure. During the water cut-off, the UN trucked water to a number of neighbourhoods in Damascus and surrounding areas, as well as to 101 schools, benefiting 94,000 children, as well as providing other technical support to the water authorities. And, as you will have seen, Staffan de Mistura will be here tomorrow to brief the Security Council and we expect him to join the President of the Security Council at a stakeout around 12:30 p.m. tomorrow. And at 4 p.m., the Swedish Mission will host an end-of-Security-Council-presidency press briefing in this very room.
Our colleagues from the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) yesterday said that they are deeply concerned about the outbreak of fighting between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition in and around Malakal town. Intermittent shelling has been reported over the last few days. The peacekeeping Mission reports that yesterday the situation in the town remained tense. It continues to patrol regularly in Malakal, which is apparently largely deserted. And the UN Mission reiterates its call on all parties to immediately cease hostilities and fully implement the peace agreement. The Mission will continue to act within its capacity to protect civilians in imminent danger and calls on all parties to enable the movement of humanitarian aid and personnel to impacted areas.
And I also want to let you know that we obviously are following developments in the investigation of the horrific attack on a mosque in Quebec. We condemn this apparent act of terrorism on a place of worship. We trust that Canada and Canadians, who have shown such leadership in promoting diversity and tolerance, will come together to reject any attempts to sow division based on religion. And we, of course send our condolences to the people, to the families of the victims and wish a speedy recovery to those who were wounded.
We also join the UN Resident Coordinator in Myanmar in condemning yesterday’s killing of U Ko Ni, a prominent constitutional lawyer and a legal adviser to the National League of Democracy. The Resident Coordinator expressed her condolences to his family, friends and colleagues. She also stressed the need for the Government to thoroughly investigate the killing, identifying the motivations behind them and hold those responsible to account.
And lastly, we welcome three more countries to the honor roll: Georgia, Ireland and New Zealand. Which brings us up to? [Twenty-five.] Edie, you play; you win.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. We've seen a rather mild response from the Secretary‑General on the US Administration's actions regarding refugees and on visas for seven predominantly Muslim countries. I wonder if you could tell us why there's been no condemnation, no request for a reversal, and nothing said on the targeting of those seven predominantly Muslim countries.
Spokesman: I think, as you would have seen, we very much hope that the measures put in place regarding refugees are temporary. The US has been a critical partner of the United Nations organizations, especially UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] and IOM [International Organization for Migration], in resettling… in resettling refugees. I think the Secretary‑General looks forward to a constructive engagement with the US Administration on this and other issues. You will also have seen, I think, the joint statement put out by IOM and UNHCR over the weekend in which they say they strongly believe that refugees should receive equal treatment for protection and assistance and opportunities for resettlement, regardless of their religion, nationality or race. And we, obviously, fully agree with what these agencies have said. Sherwin?
Question: Steph, to that point, can you speak about how UNHCR works on the vetting of refugees that are resettled in countries like the United States, for example? I mean, what sort of procedures are in place before people are moved and resettled?
Spokesman: My understanding from UNHCR is that they do an initial screening and interviews of each resettlement candidate. Then each country, obviously, where the… those people are to be resettled has its own screening procedures. For the US, as we understand it from UNHCR, they then connect their own vetting process. And, obviously, it is up to the US and any country that accepts refugees for resettlement to give the final green light. The UN never forces anyone to accept refugees for resettlement. The US, as far as we understand it, conducts its interviews abroad. The process can take up to two years. And it goes through a number of security… security vetting that's proper to the US procedure. And again, each country has its own procedures. Yes, sir?
Question: Follow‑up on this: the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner called Mr. [Donald] Trump's actions mean‑spirited and against the human rights law. Does the Secretary‑General also support the position taken by…?
Spokesman: The High Commissioner for Human Rights has his mandate. He is free and encouraged to speak on issues having to do with human rights globally. I've stated the Secretary‑General's position. Obviously, I think if you look back at… I would encourage you to take a look again at the statement the Secretary‑General delivered just a few days ago in the General Assembly on the event of the commemoration of the Holocaust, where he said he "was extremely concerned about the discrimination faced by minorities, refugees, and migrants across the world". He said: "I find stereotyping of Muslims deeply troubling. A new normal of public discourse is taking hold in which prejudice is given a free pass and the door is open to even more extreme hatred." And I think those are the Secretary‑General's own words. Carole. Sorry. Feel free to yield.
Question: Just a follow‑up on Edie's question. So, the Executive Order caused a lot of panic and chaos this weekend, protests. What's the level of concern of the Secretary‑General given what we're seeing? And, also, when you say you want it to be temporary, are you talking about the Executive… I mean the Executive Order is for months, 90 days.
Spokesman: We want to see any stop in the flow of refugees that are being resettled in the US to be temporary. Historically, the United States has been one of the most welcoming countries in terms of resettlement of refugees, and we very much hope that that tradition will continue. Obviously, we have seen the confusion that has taken place over the last few days, and it's clear that it is of concern to us. Yes, sir. And then Rosalyn.
Correspondent: One follow‑up and a question. So, in the… President Trump has been speaking about safe zones for refugees in Syria and Iraq and in the Middle East. I just wonder whether the United Nations are going to cooperate with the US President in this regard. And I have a follow‑up.
Spokesman: Sure. You know, on the safe zones, it's… we've seen these reports. We're looking into it. Obviously, any establishment of a safe zone anywhere is a very complex and high‑risk maneuver. But, we are keen to find out more information.
Question: And my follow‑up is… in fact, is Mr. Trump has been in office for 10 days. The… he shook the world and the United States itself. And I wonder whether the Secretary‑General… UN Secretary‑General is going to speak up about the issues, as well as we have been witnessing leaders around the world speaking about this very… and this is not about confusion. This is not about confusion. You characterized it as a confusion. It doesn't…?
Spokesman: I don't think I characterized it as confusion. I expressed our position on what had been decided. I also highlighted what other parts of the UN system have said. And I think that's clear for all to see and read. We are at the start of a new US Administration. We are at the start of a new UN Administration. The new Permanent Representative arrived on Friday. We're looking forward also to the arrival of a new Secretary of State, which will enable the Secretary‑General to have real, concrete and comprehensive discussions with the US authorities on a whole host of issues that we have seen, as you mentioned, in the last 10 days. Rosalyn?
Question: When you said that he is looking forward to having these concrete discussions, is there a scheduled conversation or meeting with Ambassador [Nikki] Haley when he returns to New York?
Spokesman: No, you know, he had a first round of discussion with her on Friday. As it is with Permanent Representatives, they have contact all the time with the Secretary‑General, whether by phone or in person, so it's a… characterize it as a rolling discussion, an ongoing discussion.
Question: And quick follow‑up: Has he tried to reach out to President Trump to express this building's concerns about the policy, about the confusion that has been created among those who may be affected or whose relatives or friends may be affected by the policy?
Spokesman: There's been no… as far as I know, there's been no contact between the Secretary‑General and the President. Mr. Lee and then we'll go to Fathi.
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. Another question, but follow‑up on this. I wanted to ask you, in light of the… this… what some see as kind of a lack of communications from the UN Secretariat, as opposed to Prince Zeid, came across this 2017 Communications Guidance put out by DPI [Department of Public Information] and its Under‑Secretary‑General. And it talks… it says that "The UN in 2017 will be addressing the toxic, xenophobic and often racist narrative towardS refugees and migrants taking parts in many parts of the world." And I wanted to know, is this… to your knowledge, is this document meant… is it Secretariat‑wide including for high officials? Is it only meant for UNIC [United Nations Information Centre] or DPI offices?
Spokesman: No, it's Secretariat‑wide. And I think you will have seen the previous Secretary‑General launch the Together Campaign about standing with refugees, about opening doors for refugees, about rejecting the stereotyping of refugees. This is a campaign that Secretary‑General [António] Guterres is also very much wedded to, and we will continue to promote it. And it was born out of the… last fall, out of the summit on the mass movement of peoples.
Question: What I wanted to ask about the guidance is, in reading it through, it seems, in many places, like on Haiti cholera, it seems less concerned about actually making up for what took place on the island than for, you know, “promoting what the UN has done”. So, I'd wanted to know… that's on page nine. And I wanted to know, what has the UN done? Of the money raised, you'd said before that 1 million came from South Korea, some hundreds of thousands from… from France, and I believe India has also contributed…
Spokesman: Right. As you know, there are two tracks. I can get you an update on the disbursement. Yep?
Question: Just a couple follow‑ups, Stéphane. On yesterday's… US President Donald Trump spoke to King Salman of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince of UAE [United Arab Emirates], Hamed bin Zayed, regarding establishing safe zones in Syria and Yemen. If he managed to get his way with this demand, is the UN ready to be on the ground, to be in these safe zone and provide the services needed for the refugees? This is number one. Number two, the impact of the travel ban for the seven countries in President Trump Executive Order, how it affects the UN staff from these countries? UN employs people from all over the world, including these seven Member States. And, third, during the next 30 days, is the Secretary‑General having any schedule to meet with US President Donald Trump, whether at the White House or at the United Nations?
Spokesman: All right. Let me take it in back… in reverse order. On your last question, as soon as there's something scheduled, I will let you know. On your second question, we have gotten assurances from the US Mission that G-4… UN staff members from those seven countries listed who have valid G-4 visas will be allowed to come into the United States for their work. I think there may have been some issues over the weekend, but we're confident in the assurances we've received from the US Mission, and we very much hope that all UN staff members with valid G-4 visas will be allowed to come into the US to conduct their work. On your first question, I would use the exact same words I used for your neighbour to the left… your left, Mr. Barada, about two seconds ago. Masood and then Carole.
Question: Thank you. Stéphane, specifically, just to follow up on this, does the Secretary‑General also agree with the assessment of United Nations Human Rights Commissioner that this… Trump's order is illegal… illegal under the human rights law?
Spokesman: It's not for me to agree or disagree with the High Commissioner for Human Rights. What is clear is that refugees need to receive equal treatment under the law regardless of their race, nationality, or religion. Carole?
Question: Stéphane, can you elaborate on these issues over the weekend concerning the UN employees? And when you said you received assurances from the US Mission, meaning you've been in contact, obviously, with them about…?
Spokesman: Yes, the Secretary‑General's Office has been in contact with the US Mission.
Question: In… in… in that contact, was there an expression of concern or requests…?
Spokesman: We just want to make sure that… you know, this had to do with UN staff. I think, as Fathi said, we have staff from every country and including those seven countries. But, as far as I gather, everything's been resolved, and there've been no… people have been allowed to come in. If I have further details, I will share those with you. Please?
Question: Stéphane, do you know when and where the new conference on Cyprus is going to be?
Spokesman: No, I will check if I have any information on that.
Question: And another question. Do you consider the previous one as successful confidence? Because, as I understand, every participant has a complaint against Mr. [Espen Barth] Eide.
Spokesman: The Cyprus talks are a complicated and complex ongoing process that is ongoing. Olga?
Question: Thanks, Steph. If Syrian talks are rescheduled for later February in Geneva… I'm sorry. So, if it's rescheduled, is it because UN as a sponsor of these talks in Geneva is not ready to host, or UN mediator thinks that parties are not ready to come together?
Spokesman: I will let Mr. de Mistura answer that question when he comes tomorrow, but it's clear that, as he always has, Mr. de Mistura will announce the resumption of talks when he feels that all the chess pieces in this three‑dimensional chess game are aligned in a position that makes it possible for the talks to start. Yep, and then Linda.
Question: I just wanted to follow up. Is there a precise number of UN staff or even people from missions to the UN who were stranded on the weekend?
Spokesman: No, I don't… the… on the mission… the issue of those diplomats in the missions, that's not something I would have access to. But, let me try to get a little bit more granularity on the issue. I think it may have been a handful of cases of people being told by airlines that they could not board, and I think there was a lot of confusion across the board. And… but, as I said, we were happy to get the assurances that we needed to get from the US Mission. [He later made a correction, saying that the UN has no confirmed cases where any UN staff member was affected by the new policies. The UN has been in contact with the US authorities over the weekend and has been assured that G-2 and G-4 visa holders are exempted from the executive order. The UN has received assurances that travel by UN staff should proceed unaffected by the new policy.] Ms Fasulo?
Question: Thank you, Steph. I'd just like to ask you about the status of refugees being accepted into countries in a more global sense. The U… I mean the UN is obviously reacting to the US decision. But, I was wondering, is there a UN position in terms of whether countries should or must accept refugees? In other words, we know that there are dozens and dozens of countries that do not accept any refugees. So, I was just wondering…
Spokesman: The issue of refugees is one of global solidarity and one that should be shared… that solidarity should be shared across the board. Yes, every country that can, should permit refugees for resettlement, should those refugees want to go there. The UN is not in a position to force countries to take in refugees. What we see is that the majority of refugees that are in camps, in transit camps or in temporary — and sometimes that temporary can last 1, 2, 3, 4, 10 years — are overwhelmingly in developing countries, as the Secretary‑General said, in… whether it be in Ethiopia, in… or in Kenya. But, every country has a responsibility. So, everyone should. Carole, then Rosalyn, then Matthew.
Question: Sorry, Stéphane. I just want to get the facts straight. So, that you said there were a handful of cases of UN employees who were not allowed to board plain planes on the weekend. So, eventually, they got other flights or they… they were… what happened there?
Spokesman: No, I think if… and, again, I will try to get more detail. If people were not able to board, they then… there was some… some time was… perhaps people had to wait a day or so, but my understanding as of a few minutes ago is that all the issues had been ironed out and we got the needed assurances from the US Mission. Rosalyn?
Question: Going back to the US situation, one of the reasons why the Administration is arguing that this was a snap order taking effect immediately was that, if there were seven days' notice — and I'm paraphrasing the President's words — that would give “the bad guys seven days to try to get in”. Isn't that, though, a specious argument given that refugees in particular are subject to months, if not years, of review before they can actually receive a visa to the US?
Spokesman: I'm not going to get into the motivation, the interpretation. I think our colleagues at UNHCR have shared the facts of the vetting process as it exists now. We can make the fact sheet available to you if you haven't seen it. And I think everyone can then draw their own conclusions. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Another question, but I guess I'd just ask on… the information about the UN staff that were… were stopped from flying, maybe you can put either a note to correspondents or…?
Spokesman: I said, as soon as I get more…
Question: Send out facts…?
Spokesman: I love facts. As soon as I have them, I will share them.
Question: You'll send them around?
Question: Great. I wanted to ask, in Addis, it was said… it's been reported that the Secretary‑General in a meeting with Kenya had reached two agreements. And I wanted to ask you if it's true and if they're related, one having to do with the redeployment of Kenyan troops to UNMISS in South Sudan and the other having to do with committing the Darfur Force Commander position to Kenya. Are both… were both agreements reached? And, if so, is there a relationship between the two?
Spokesman: Not that I'm aware. As you know, on senior staff appointments, they're official once they're announced. I do understand that there was a positive resolution of the issues that we've had between Kenya and the United Nations on the issue of contributions to peacekeeping. I think our… some colleagues from the peacekeeping department or Department of Field [Support] will be going to Kenya soon to have a more detailed dialogue with Kenyan authorities.
Question: And do you know who's won the race for… for African Union PSC [Peace and Security Council]? It's… and… I mean, I guess I'm just… can you confirm that it's not Amina Mohammed of Kenya and it's…?
Spokesman: It's not my place to comment.
Question: Okay. But, I have one question of UN… I wanted… it's a lead‑in. I wanted to know whether you can confirm, either from here or later today, that the Resident Coordinator of Kenya, Mr. Siddharth Chatterjee, in fact, was at the… was… was at the summit and, I'm told, was actually actively lobbying for the Foreign Minister of Kenya to get the position, and if so, if that would be appropriate or not?
Spokesman: I have absolutely no way to confirm that.
Question: Would it be appropriate?
Spokesman: I'm not going to speculate because I have no way to confirm it. Yes?
Correspondent: Not to beat a dead horse…
Spokesman: Please. Why don't you take the mic, please. This horse has been dead for a few years. Keep beating.
Question: Okay. So, yeah, beat it a little more. Was… were there any UN staff who got stranded at one of the US airports not allowed in? I know…
Spokesman: Not that I'm aware of. Ali, and then madame, who's been very patient. Go ahead.
Question: Does the UN support the neighbouring countries of Syria to keep their doors open for refugees?
Spokesman: I think the UN supports all countries and wishes that all countries would keep their doors open for refugees. Sylviane?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Regarding the safe zone concerning Syria, it seems that some arrangements have been done around Idlib for return of refugees. Can you confirm that? Do you have something about that?
Spokesman: No, but I can… I can check. Carole and then Fathi and then Masood.
Question: Stéphane, just to clarify, when you talk about a positive resolution on discussions concerning Kenya, so… it means that Kenya will be part of the RPF [Regional Protection Force] in South Sudan, or they're going back to UNMISS? What does that mean?
Spokesman: They will… my understanding is that they will be somehow contributing back to peacekeeping operations in UNMISS. Exactly how and at what… in which component, I will be able to confirm to you a little later. Fathi?
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. Back again to the staff situation from the seven countries in the travel ban, will this Executive Order have any impact on the UN hiring policies and procedures for nationals of these seven countries for jobs open at the Headquarters?
Spokesman: No, no, I mean, as I've said, we've spoken to the US Mission. They've given us the assurances…
Correspondent: For those who already work.
Spokesman: No, no, as a general rule, that people who have G-4 visas and the procedure will continue as it has.
Question: Will they continue issuing G-4 visas for new hires?
Spokesman: As I said, my understanding is that it will have no impact on the UN, moving forward. Masood?
Question: Yes. Stéphane, two weeks ago… I mean two or three weeks ago, when the Secretary‑General took over, I'd asked you a question about India and Pakistan, [the] situation over there. And you said that he would get around to it when… when… because there was so many issues at that time. So, now that he has spoken with the Pakistani Prime Minister in Davos, has he decided that he's going to talk to the Indian Prime Minister?
Spokesman: As soon as there are some contacts, I will… that I'm able to confirm to you, I shall do that.
Question: I mean, is there a date or timeline?
Spokesman: As I… with these things, once they happen, we confirm them. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. Two questions. One is, is there are reports, including, I guess, UN reports, of alleged sexual abuse by Ugandan troops in the Central African Republic that are part of the force searching for the Lord’s Resistance Army. It said there's a UN report on this. And I wanted to know, does the UN…?
Spokesman: I haven't seen it, so…
Question: Okay. Well, here… you may have seen this. There's… was a decision in the… what used to be called the John Ashe case; now it's called the Ng Lap Seng case, down in the Southern District of New York that came out on 27 January. And it refers… the reason I'm asking you is it refers to a delay in the production by… of two documents produced to the Government by the United Nations — UN Document 1, UN Document 2. They're going to be released down the road, but I wanted to know… I'd asked you before about the request… the UN participation in the case. Can you get a statement, I guess, from OLA [Office of Legal Affairs] how many documents they turned over, if they played any role…?
Spokesman: No, it's an ongoing… it's an ongoing case. We cooperate with national legal authorities in criminal cases as appropriate.
Question: Right, but do you have… do you play any role in keeping the documents confidential?
Spokesman: That's all I can tell you. Okay. Linda, then we'll go.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Just following up on Sherwin's earlier question about the vetting done by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, you said that there's an initial screening of every candidate. I was just wondering if you had any more details in terms of what that means. Is that just checking documents and that kind of thing?
Spokesman: I will put you in touch with UNHCR, and they can give you more granularity. Thank you.