The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, everyone, happy President’s Day.
The Secretary-General has ended his travels to the Middle East and Germany and will be back at UN Headquarters tomorrow.
Over the weekend, he spoke at the Munich Security Conference and told participants there that it is clear that we need to address the fragility of States and to support States and civil society to become stronger and more resilient so they are less likely to be involved in conflict situations. He also outlined the reforms the United Nations is engaging in concerning its peace and security architecture and the UN development system, as well as management reforms.
The Secretary-General was asked about the talks among the Syrian parties that are to take place this week in Geneva, and he said that peace is only possible when none of the parties to the conflict think they can win. He said that he was not sure we are there yet in Syria, since some might still think, even if it’s a total illusion, that they might win that war. The transcript of his remarks is online.
Three UN agencies have warned that war and a collapsing economy have left some 100,000 people facing starvation in parts of South Sudan where famine was declared today. A further 1 million people are on the brink of famine. The situation is the worst hunger catastrophe since fighting erupted in the country more than three years ago.
World Food Programme (WFP) Country Director Joyce Luma stressed that this famine is man-made. She said the entire humanitarian community has been trying with all its might to avoid this catastrophe, mounting a humanitarian response of a scale that would have seemed impossible three years ago. But she said there is only so much that humanitarian assistance can achieve in the absence of meaningful peace and security, both for relief workers and the crisis-affected people they serve.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and WFP also called for urgent action to prevent more people from dying of hunger. If sustained and adequate assistance is delivered urgently, the situation can be improved in the coming months and further suffering mitigated. Unimpeded humanitarian access to everyone facing famine, or at risk of famine, is urgently needed to reverse the escalating catastrophe.
**Central African Republic
You will have seen the statement that was issued yesterday on the Central African Republic with the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the African Union (AU), the International Organization of La Francophonie (IOF), and the European Union (EU). The five organizations expressed deep concern over the security situation in the country, in particular in the prefectures of Ouaka and Haute-Kotto.
The organizations condemned the latest acts of violence perpetrated by the FPRC and its allies, as well as by the UPC, and demanded that the belligerents cease the hostilities immediately. They recalled that only dialogue will allow Central African actors to find the appropriate and sustainable responses to their legitimate grievances.
And the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) continues to monitor the situation in and around Bambari where tensions persist. The Mission met with UPC leader Ali Darassa over the weekend as part of its efforts to calm the situation and resolve any dispute through dialogue. In a communiqué issued yesterday, the UPC announced its leader’s intention to leave Bambari in compliance with the UN’s instructions. Meanwhile, peaceful protests commenced in front of the UN base in Bambari today expressing support to Ali Darassa.
The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Somalia, Michael Keating, yesterday condemned in the strongest possible terms the attack at a market in Mogadishu.
Mr. Keating described the incident as a brutal reminder of the retrograde tactics employed by violent extremists. He said that killing civilians is despicable and achieves nothing — except to remind Somalia of the indifference of extremists to human life and suffering. He also commended the swift response of Somalia’s security and first responders and said that the perpetrators need to be brought to justice swiftly.
With military operations to retake western Mosul beginning, humanitarian organizations are warning that tens of thousands of families are at extreme risk. Recent surveys confirm that food and fuel supplies are dwindling, markets and shops have closed, running water is scarce and electricity in many neighbourhoods is either intermittent or cut off. Lise Grande, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, said that the situation is distressing.
The UN estimates that between 750,000 and 800,000 civilians are living in the western section of the city. Few, if any, commercial supplies have reached Mosul during the past three months after the main road to Syria was cut off.
Informants report that nearly half of all food shops have closed.
Humanitarian agencies are rushing to prepare for the humanitarian impact of the military campaign. Emergency sites are being constructed south of the city and stocks of life-saving supplies are being pre-positioned for the 250,000 to 400,000 civilians who may flee.
The UN Mission in Colombia said yesterday that nearly 7,000 FARC-EP members have arrived at zones where it will verify the laying down of arms.
In the past 19 days, members of the FARC-EP, men and women, some of them pregnant or with small children, rode cars, buses, boats or walked through 36 routes across the country.
General Javier Pérez Aquino, head of the UN Mission observers, said that the FARC-EP’s decision to move into the zones — in spite of the limited logistics in the majority of them — is very positive.
There are more details in a press release from the Mission.
The Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), Ertharin Cousin, and the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, are very concerned that critical shortages in food assistance are affecting some 2 million refugees in 10 countries across Africa.
The number of refugees in Africa nearly doubled from 2.6 million in 2011 to nearly 5 million in 2016.
While donor funding for refugee assistance increased during this period, it did not keep pace with rapidly rising needs. As a result, the humanitarian response is significantly underfunded and this has forced cuts in food assistance for some groups of refugees.
Ten refugee operations in Africa have experienced cuts and food rations have been dramatically cut — in some cases by up to 50 per cent — in large operations including Cameroon, Chad, Kenya, Mauritania, South Sudan and Uganda.
More details are available online.
Our thanks today go to Bosnia and Herzegovina and to South Africa, as those Member States have paid their regular budget dues in full. The Honour Roll now stands at 43. Thank you, Erol.
Tomorrow, the Secretary-General for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Lamberto Zannier, will be our guest at noon and will brief the press on Ukraine.
And that is it for me. Are there any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Farhan, on Syria, there are reports of shelling near Damascus. So I was wondering how that is impacting on preparations for the peace talks. My understanding was that, although the talks are starting on Thursday, people were supposed to begin arriving. Do you have any information on that?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding the arrival, yes, the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. de Mistura, is very much ready to receive people. And he would… will welcome those who are arriving.
We do expect clarifications on who precisely will be coming over the coming days, but… but they are expected.
Regarding what you said about the situation in Damascus, the UN is alarmed by the intensification of fighting in the Damascus area in recent days.
We have received reports of civilian deaths and injuries as a result of fighting in Qaboun, Barza, Tishrine and West Harasta neighbourhoods in Damascus City which started on the 18th of February.
Over 100,000 people in need live in those neighbourhoods.
Shelling on other Damascus neighbourhoods has also increased during this period.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent is trying to provide internally displaced people with food, blankets, and mattresses.
Question: Can I follow up?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes.
Question: I’m not sure what you mean by you’re awaiting clarifications on who exactly is coming. Is it that you don’t know who’s coming to these…?
Deputy Spokesman: No, no. I mean, we… there have been people invited. We’re… we’re going to get clarifications in terms of some precise… some precise details on that in the coming days. But people will be arriving, and the Special Envoy does look forward to meeting them starting… starting today.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Thank you for being generous in mentioning that Bosnia paid everything. I didn’t know the fact that we are that much rich.
Anyhow, Farhan, does the Secretary‑General intend to meet some of the previous candidates for the post of the Secretary‑General and talk to them, exchange their views, or even offer them something as far as positions at the UN?
Deputy Spokesman: That’s not really how it works. I mean, over the course of the work that he does, he will, from time to time, be meeting with other people who ran for the post. That’s a natural fact of working in the international community, but it’s… it’s not a case of seeking out people who are also candidates.
Question: The reason, if I may…
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah.
Question: [inaudible] The reason that I ask is because there are some inside reports that he’s, indeed, going to meet a few of them here in New York in the near future. So that’s why I’m asking so… because I’ve heard that. So you don’t have anything on that as scheduled or…?
Deputy Spokesman: No, there’s nothing scheduled that involves meeting with previous members. Obviously, some of them, he meets over the course of his work including others who have different responsibilities within the United Nations system.
Question: And if I may just…
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah.
Question: …just finish with this.
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah.
Question: On behalf of the UNCA members, since we are elected of them, I would like to ask you when the Secretary‑General is going to have his first full press conference, not as a stakeout, but here, and whether this is going to be kind of established to be a monthly or something like that press conference with the possibility for broader membership to ask the questions — not the usual suspects?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, first things first, we are trying to get him to… to do a press conference at Headquarters. I don’t have any specific dates to give you just yet, but we’ll let you know once something is arranged.
Question: Yeah, what about the other part of the question, please?
Deputy Spokesman: We’ll… we’ll get to that first. First, we want to establish being able to hold a press conference here, and then we’ll see what… what else we can do with that.
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. I wanted to ask you about this DRC video of summary executions by the army of civilians, including women and children. A number of countries have spoken out, but I’m wondering, particularly given since the UN does joint operations with the… the… the DRC authorities, what steps is the UN taking to investigate the… the murders shown on the video and to see whether it, in fact, supports and works with any of the units involved?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, first of all, we don’t provide any support to the Congolese Armed Forces in the Kasais, which is where this video applies. All current cooperation with the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is focused on efforts to neutralize armed groups in the Eastern DRC according to the established procedures under the Human Rights Due Diligence Policy.
The Mission has requested from the DRC authorities a credible and independent investigation into the actions of the Congolese Armed Forces in the Kasais. MONUSCO has also deployed a mobile monitoring response team in the area to investigate and document human rights violations and has reinforced its civilian, police and military engagement at all levels with the Congolese authorities to address the situation.
Question: I guess one question I have about this is… I mean, I understand that the units are broken down by geography, but the way… the… the… the… it seems to reflect so badly on the army as a whole, the fact this would… that unarmed people would be shot in this way and that it would be filmed and circulated in the way that it was that I’m wondering, at what point is… is the… is the human rights due diligence only triggered by the specific unit that does something, or is there, in fact, command responsibility given, like, could there be commanders in Kinshasa in charge of not only the units in Kasais but also, to some degree, the units in the east and their failure to… to… to train, investigate, or discipline would… would trigger loss of support?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as I just mentioned, that’s why we requested… even though we don’t cooperate with the Congolese Armed Forces in the Kasais, we have requested from the DRC authorities a credible and independent investigation into the Congolese Armed Forces’ overall action in the Kasais.
Regarding the video, obviously, it shows very shocking footage of killings and executions of civilians by uniformed personnel. The Mission is looking into verifying the source of the video and identifying whether it is linked to the recent events in the Kasais. This video is one piece of information among many that we’re looking into in connection to the spate of incidents that have taken place in Kananga in the past days.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. President Trump has today completed one month in the office. He has met a number of leaders and spoken to them, but what about his meeting with the Secretary‑General? Has anything been scheduled?
Deputy Spokesman: No, there’s no meeting scheduled. As you know, they have spoken by telephone, and the Secretary‑General has met with other key interlocutors, including the UN Ambassador, but he’s not met the Secretary‑General so far.
Question: [inaudible] After his inauguration, has the Secretary‑General spoken to…
Deputy Spokesman: No, no, he spoke to him prior to the inauguration.
Sherwin first and then…
Question: Thanks, Farhan. On South Sudan, can you speak to the significance of this famine declaration in certain counties in South Sudan? It’s the highest level in term… as to how the scientists or aid agencies rate these things. Can you just speak to kind of what the criteria would have been for this level of a declaration to be made?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, it’s very clear the severity of the situation, and… and, as we pointed out, this is also significant in that it’s a man‑made famine. This is not caused by climatic conditions. So it’s extremely disturbing that the sort of crisis we’ve had for the past several years in South Sudan has brought us to this point.
We had been warning, as you know, in past years, that if people did not have the safety to harvest crops, to do the sort of planting and farming that they need to do that… that you would get to this sort of point where a large number of people cannot feed themselves. And now we are at that point, and it’s a… a real problem.
But, as I pointed out just now, if we are able to deliver sustained and adequate assistance, the situation can be improved in the coming months, and that is what we are aiming for.
Question: Can I ask what the status is with the deployment of the Protection Force?
Deputy Spokesman: There’s nothing further to say about that. As you know, we’ve been trying to get the Protection Force deployed, but I don’t have any new details on how far we’re moving ahead on that.
Question: If I may, so the Protection Force has not yet been deployed…
Deputy Spokesman: No. As you know, the concept was approved by the Security Council. We have people ready, but in terms of actual deployment, the situation’s unchanged.
Correspondent: Unfortunately, it’s breaking bad news. Russian Federation Permanent Representative at the UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin has passed away.
Deputy Spokesman: Oh! Oh, no.
Correspondent: RT just reporting it.
Deputy Spokesman: This just happened?
Correspondent: Just happened three minutes ago.
Deputy Spokesman: Oh…
Correspondent: It’s very sad. We worked with him for years, and our sincere condolences go to his family and his nation, of course.
Deputy Spokesman: I… indeed. And thank you for saying that. And, of course, from our standpoint, of course, we… we mourn Ambassador Churkin. He was… he’s been such a… a… a regular presence here that it’s… that I’m actually quite stunned. And our thoughts go to his family, to his friends, and to his Government.
Question: Echo that. I wanted to ask about Libya. There was a… do you have anything on the attempted assassination attempt against Mr. Serraj? And, also, there’s a reported ban on women… unaccompanied women travelling from the east. So can you… I guess, do you have… either on that? And any update on the selection of an SRSG that was previously blocked?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding the selection of an SRSG, that process… the consultations are ongoing, and I don’t have any… any further details to share for you beyond what the Secretary‑General himself said to the press on this over the weekend.
Regarding… regarding the assassination… the reports, I don’t have a confirmation of those reports, so I don’t have any reaction to provide at this point.
Question: And I’ve noticed that the… the… António Guterres has put out a sort of a global call, generic call, for SRSGs to be in some sort of pool to become UN envoys to conflict zones. I wanted to know, like, on the Libya one, given… given the apparent miscommunication about whether it would be accepted or blocked, is there any thought of doing an open process such as is being done with Department of Management and Department of Public Information, or is it still… is there any thought of… I guess, of… of having that more public or at least routinized process as opposed to a behind‑the‑scenes process?
Deputy Spokesman: If there’s any changes to make in the current process, we’ll announce it. We don’t… while we’re considering certain things, there’s nothing to announce at this point.
Question: And just one last… because I’ve noticed, like… obviously, in going down the list, it seems like he made this decision to make extensions on peace and security, you know, pillars for a year to get it… in… in terms of OCHA and DESA — these are two other big USG posts — is… are… are… is the intention to put these out to bid publicly? Are… are they also being extended a year? What’s the… what track are they on?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I don’t have anything to announce on that. As you know, I did announce a few days ago that there was the initiation of recruitment for the Department of Management. When others come up, we’ll let you know.
Deputy Spokesman: Have a good day.