The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
A new report issued today by our colleagues at the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has detailed the highest number of civilian casualties ever recorded in a single year in the country, including record figures for children killed and injured in 2016.
The alarmingly high figures have prompted the UN to call on all warring parties to take urgent steps to keep people safe.
The report details more than 11,400 conflict-related civilian casualties, the highest figure since the UN began systematically documenting casualty figures in 2009.
“All parties to the conflict must take immediate concrete action to protect the ordinary Afghan men, women and children whose lives are being shattered,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan. The full report can be found online.
The UN is gravely concerned that since 14 January, an estimated 1.8 million people in Aleppo city and rural eastern Aleppo in Syria have been cut off from their main source of water, which is under Da’esh control.
The UN continues to respond to the water crisis by supplying fuel to operate 100 deep wells, and is supporting emergency water trucking, reaching nearly 1 million people in need of water assistance.
Meanwhile, a UN/International Committee of the Red Cross/Syrian Arab Red Crescent inter-agency convoy continued to deliver food, nutrition, health and other emergency items yesterday to 84,000 people in need in hard-to-reach Talbiseh in rural Homs. That area was last reached by a convoy on 19 September 2016. This convoy is the first cross-line land delivery in February and only the second in 2017.
The UN continues to call for unconditional, unimpeded and sustained access to all 4.72 million people in hard-to-reach locations across the country, including more than 600,000 in besieged locations.
And Stephen O'Brien, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, completed a two-day visit to Jordan today, which is the third-largest host of Syrian refugees in the region. During his visit, Mr. O'Brien met with senior Jordanian officials, including General Mahmoud Frihat, head of the Jordanian Armed Forces, and Prime Minister Hani Mulki. On Sunday, he visited the Azraq refugee camp.
The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, earlier today issued a statement in which he expressed his concern at the scheduled vote on the so-called “Regularization Bill” that would enable the continued use of privately-owned Palestinian land for Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
If adopted into law, Mr. Mladenov said, it will have far reaching legal consequences for Israel and greatly diminish the prospects for Arab-Israeli peace.
The full statement is online.
**Female Genital Mutilation
Today is the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
In a message issued on the occasion, the Secretary-General stressed that female genital mutilation denies women and girls their dignity, endangers their health, and causes needless pain and suffering, with consequences that are for a lifetime.
In a joint statement, UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) Executive Director Dr. Babatunde [Osotimehin] and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) Executive Director Anthony Lake said that in 2017, we must demand faster action against that practice and call on Governments to enact and enforce laws and policies that protect the rights of girls and women.
Worldwide, almost 200 million girls and women have undergone some form of female genital mutilation and cutting.
Countries with the highest prevalence among girls and women aged 15 to 49 are Somalia, Guinea and Djibouti. More information online.
**Questions and Answers
That’s it, unless you have questions. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Some other stuff, but I wanted to ask you about this report put out about the… by the Special Rapporteurs about the closing of… of human rights NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in Burundi, by Representatives Kaye and Forest and others. And first I just wanted to know, is there anything from the Secretariat kind of reacting to it? And also, could you give some either summary or indication of what Secretary‑General António Guterres said to the Council on Friday? There was sort a readout, sort of on South Sudan but very little said on Burundi. What is… what are his plans going forward given that his Security Council resolution has not been implemented and now you have…
Spokesman: Well, obviously, the Security Council, I think, has a very important role to play in resolving the Burundi crisis, as all of the countries in the region do. The Secretary‑General, during his meeting with the Council, updated them on his discussions during the… at the African Union. And on the report, we have nothing to add. It's obviously a very important report, but we have no specific comment on it.
Question: And could I ask… I wanted to ask you something else. On… in Central African Republic (CAR), a memo reflects, as published on Friday by Inner City Press, that the mission has been dumping its garbage into a… a dump in Bangui. And the memo says that the UN is aware that people in the vicinity have caught malaria or complained of malaria and that the people have put down these protests. And I'm just wondering, given what happened in Haiti, what is… how is this acceptable? And who's been held accountable for the dumping of garbage in Bangui?
Spokesman: I haven't seen the memo, and obviously I can't comment on the specificity of a memo which may or may not be genuine, but what I can tell you is that there are obviously some major infrastructure challenges in the Central African Republic, including, clearly, in the areas of waste management. The UN Mission there has been using the Kolongo site for waste disposal in Bangui since its deployment. The site was approved for use by the Government of the CAR and was the only option for the Mission in the short term for waste disposal. The Mission has prioritized the use of waste management and has been exploring solutions to address the concerns related to the proper functionality of the Kolongo site. A feasibility study is in the plans, which will decide how the mission will proceed.
Question: Right. Can I just… one follow‑up if you could, because I mean… I don't know. Having looked at the memo and seen a series of memos all from the same person to the same person, I just… it just seems… I just want to ask you. It says, like, they… they know the number of people sick. 81… 81 per cent were children. The smell of the dump site attracted houseflies, causing diarrhoea… diarrhoea. So I just… I hear what you're saying from there, but is it really true that the UN approved the use of this dump site and that it continued for months despite this knowledge…?
Spokesman: Well, the use of the site, of the waste manage site, was approved by the Government of the CAR. We're looking at two other options for the medium term, which is either to improve the conditions of the Kolongo site or building a new waste management facility in a UN compound. Carmen?
Question: Thank you so much. Right before President [Barack] Obama left office, he changed the US policy regarding Cuban would‑be migrants of Wet Foot, Dry Foot. I've tried to get in touch with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Is… and up to date, no reply. Is the UN involved, any agencies that you know of, involved in giving help to people who… thousands of people who may be stranded around Central America at this moment?
Spokesman: I will check. It's very possible that our colleagues at UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency) are involved in supporting some of the Cubans that are in various places in Central [America]. We can help you check right after the briefing. Sir. Mr. Pres… Sidi Rais? Yes, you.
Question: [inaudible]. Thank you, Steph. Two weeks ago, I asked you about the letter dated 14 December, sent by the Secretary‑General to the Security Council, appointing six people as members of the monitoring group for the Somalia and Eritrea in accordance with resolution 317. And I pointed out that the person who was appointed, one of two, responsible for monitoring arms and smuggling and, et cetera, is Ms. Nazanine Moshiri, an Iranian citizen. In light of the reports we heard from different UN officials, such as Jeffrey Feltman, Iran is implicated in many cases of smuggling and also by the navies of several Western countries. Doesn't that raise a bit of controversy?
Spokesman: Well, I think you're putting two things together here. What is important to remember is that the experts who serve the Security Council Sanctions Committee do so on their own capacity. They are not there to represent their Government, regardless of the passport that they hold. Prior to appointing them, the Secretary‑General… prior to appointing them… prior to their appointment by the Secretary‑General, the Security Council Sanctions Committee approves the candidates. So it is first approved by the committee, by each committee, this one on the particular one you mentioned. So I'm not going to comment on the expertise per se, but, obviously, I would add that the committee conducts a thorough recruitment selection processes based on specific terms of references (TORs), taking into account geographical distribution and gender.
Question: [inaudible]. I'm sorry, but I can't let you escape so lightly. I'm going to question the expertise of this expert. She's a journalist, a well‑known journalist. Her only claim to fame is an interview with the Foreign Minister of Iran in 2011. So she has contacts and relations with the high-ranking Iran. So to put her in that position, in that particular, what is her expertise that makes her an expert?
Spokesman: I think first you would have to talk to the Sanctions Committee chair if you want further information. But I… you know, you described this person's background. I have no way of either contradicting you or supporting you in your statement. What I'm trying to say is that there is a recruitment process. There are specific TORs. People apply. People are recruited. The Sanctions Committee approves these people.
Question: I'm sorry. I have to follow up. This person is a well‑known journalist. She works for Al Jazeera English. She has done interviews. She has… her career is not a secret. If you just get in touch with Al Jazeera English in Doha, they'll give you her full career. What makes a journalist an arms expert?
Spokesman: I think that's a question for the Sanctions Committee. Obviously, they looked at the person and they felt that she would match the terms of references that were posted. Rosalyn. Let's go to Al Jazeera English. [Laughter]
Question: Let's talk about Cyprus. Yes.
Spokesman: Yeah, let's talk about… yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Question: There are reports that the March summit in Geneva is going to focus on some of the security issues that would follow any peace accord in Cyprus. Can you confirm that the meeting will be taking place? And will that be the focus?
Spokesman: You know, I… from what I recall, the Special Adviser has set up a number of weekly meetings with the leaders and negotiating parties, obviously aimed at returning to Geneva. We do know what were some of the sticking points during the last meeting, so I think it's not surprising that they will focus on those points that have yet to be agreed on.
Question: And then there's been some discussion in both the Cypriot press, as well as in the Russian press, about Russia's influence in these peace talks. There are some Rus… excuse me… some Cypriot commentators who suggest that the Russians are once again trying to undermine any eventual peace deal and that such meddling might have been why the talks in January didn't get as far as some had hoped. Is that an accurate representation of the situation?
Spokesman: It's not one that I'm able to comment on. I read the press this morning. I think there's a lot of speculation. What is important is that we continue to work on the determination of both leaders with the help of the international community to reach a settlement. Stefano?
Question: Yes. Sorry I arrived late so maybe…
Question: I arrived late so you…
Spokesman: A lot of stuff happened while you weren't here.
Question: Yeah. Well, I know. So if you didn't mention, at the General Assembly, they talked again of the reform of the Security Council. It's… it's been going on for over 20 years. There are always the same positions. And I… wasn't his… the new Secretary‑General, does he have any preference of all those reforms that are always represented? Does he have a… an idea what could work better for the Security Council reform?
Spokesman: I think what could work better is, clearly, in the hands of the Member States. It's not up to the Secretary‑General to push one project over another. I think it is clear that there is a need for reform of the Security Council, but that is an issue that is firmly in the hands of the Member States.
Question: Follow‑up: I understand, of course, the Secretary‑General cannot impose his idea on… just to let us journalists know, not because it will change the ideas of Member States, just because we will… it's curiosity. What is for the Secretary‑General the best reform that's been presented so far? [Cross talk]
Spokesman: I appreciate curiosity, and I have a lot of it myself, but I'm really not going to alter the first response that I gave you. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, there have been… a number of media outlets have quoted South Sudan's president, Salva Kiir, as saying that soldiers accused of rape should be shot. And his direct quote… he said, "I want the general chief of staff, General Paul Malong, and the defense minister to report to me from now on if anything like this […] happens" and "we will shoot the person who did it." And another quote is that I hope… "I want them to bring to me a report that says somebody has committed such crime and has been shot." Since the second one seems to imply even, like, summary execution as opposed to, like, I guess, military justice, quote‑unquote, what is the… given that the UN has a mission there and that these quotes are in at least three separate media…
Spokesman: I haven't seen the quotes, but it's clear that the UN stands for due process when people are accused of crimes.
Question: And I wanted to ask another… this is another… this is a quote I think you have seen. It's from that Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights press release that you referred to last week from here. And the main thing I want to ask you is that it says… forgetting that it says… it… it characterizes everything about the reports as unsubstantiated, when the Ethics Office says not, it says, "The staff member has never faced reprisals" and it's… you know, "the claims were found to be unsubstantiated." So I contacted the staff member, and they said they were… unfortunately, according to UN rules, they're unable to respond to this. So I wanted to know, what does it say about… that they're unable to speak publicly about their case, but their bosses are saying that they haven't faced reprisal? Apparently, they feel different, but they're not allowed to say it. What sense does it make to have one part of the UN system putting out a press release about a staff member, and the staff member can't speak?
Spokesman: I'm not going… This is a matter… it's a question for you to refer to the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ office. People are free to speak. If they choose not to speak…
Question: No, isn't it…
Spokesman: I don't know what the nature of the conversation was with this person. So I really… I…
Question: But isn't it the case, even under the current… the rule as promulgated by António Guterres, that… that a staff member has to go through various steps before they speak publicly about what they're complaining about? That, in fact, if they don't go through internal steps, they can face reprisal?
Spokesman: I'll refer you to the bulletin. I can't comment on the specific case. Thank you.