The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
As you know, the Security Council just met on Syria, and was briefed by Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy.
I won’t go into what he said as he just spoke to you at the stakeout a few minutes ago.
We do expect the Council to reconvene this afternoon, 3 o’clock, on the resolution on Syria and the Council will then also receive a briefing from Said Djinnit, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region.
**Senior Personnel Appointments
A number of senior personnel appointments to announce.
The Secretary-General is announcing today three senior personnel appointments:
He is appointing Virginia Gamba of Argentina as his Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. As you know, Ms. Gamba brings to the post more than 30 years of experience and leadership.
The next appointment is that of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, which will go to Pramila Patten of Mauritius. Ms. Patten is a practising Barrister at Law and has served since 2003 as a Member of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
And the third one is that of High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States. The Secretary-General has selected Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamanu of Tonga, who since 2017 is the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Tourism in Tonga.
We have more information on the biography of all the people we have just announced.
Also today, the Secretary-General is announcing the members of the Independent Panel to Assess and Enhance Effectiveness of UN-Habitat after the Adoption of the New Urban Agenda at the latest Habitat Conference.
As part of the follow-up and review of the Habitat III Conference and in light of the New Urban Agenda, the Secretary-General was requested to submit an evidence-based and independent assessment of UN-Habitat to the General Assembly in its seventy-first session.
This high-level panel will be in charge of that assessment. It is composed of eight members, and reports directly to the Secretary-General. The full list of appointees is available in my office.
From South Sudan, the UN Mission in that country reports that a UN patrol returned to Pajok in Eastern Equatoria this morning after a first visit yesterday. You will remember that a patrol was prevented from assessing Pajok last week. It reached its destination yesterday and visited several areas of the town, meeting with community members and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). Peacekeepers observed that Pajok was highly militarized with limited civilian presence. As we get more information from what the patrols observe, we will try to share this with you.
Meanwhile, the Mission also tells us that the security situation is currently stable in Wau in Western Bahr El Ghazal following incidents of violence last week. Yesterday, UN peacekeepers conducted two patrols in the town and observed civilians on the main road, with little military presence. The UN Mission has also engaged the state and the leadership of the SPLA to exercise restraint.
The Mission reports that 465 civilians arrived at the protection area adjacent to the UN base in Wau on Monday night, bringing to a total of more than 25,000 people, civilians who are being protected by peacekeepers, UN peacekeepers in that sector.
And our colleagues at OCHA tell us that the inter-agency Emergency Directors team is currently in South Sudan. Yesterday, they travelled to Wau in Western Bahr El Ghazal and Mayendit in Unity and today they are meeting with government officials, humanitarian partners and the diplomatic community.
Prior to South Sudan, the Directors were in Somalia, where they held discussions with the Prime Minister and affected people in Mogadishu, Baidoa and Kismayo. They are scheduled to brief you here at noon on Monday. And that will be led by our colleague John Ging.
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, as fighting continues in west Mosul, aid partners continue to respond to rising casualties and displacement. They are also providing assistance to families in newly accessible areas.
Nearly 1,700 people who have been injured have been received near the front lines, with more than 6,300 injured people having been referred to hospitals around Mosul since the start of the military operations there last October.
Since late February, 292,000 people have been forced to flee west Mosul, with 362,000 people uprooted by fighting in both east and west Mosul.
To date, emergency aid packages have been distributed to help 1.9 million people inside Mosul and surrounding areas.
For its part, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has opened a new camp in Hammam al-Alil to house thousands of newly displaced people fleeing the fighting in the western area of Mosul.
The first 500 families began arriving today at the site, which has 2,500 tents ready to house more than 15,000 people. When construction is completed, the camp will have capacity for up to 30,000 people.
The World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that it is scaling up its emergency food operations in Yemen to provide food assistance to up to 9 million people in one of the world’s worst hunger crises.
The new emergency operation will cost up to $1.2 billion over a one-year period and should allow WFP to gradually scale up assistance to feed all severely food insecure people in Yemen every month.
The success of this operation hinges on immediate sufficient resources from donors.
In April and May and until WFP can secure the funds it needs, it will prioritize 6.7 million people for urgent food assistance. Some 2.5 million of them — particularly those in governorates hardest-hit by food insecurity and at risk of slipping into a famine — will receive a package of assistance aimed at averting famine.
Our colleagues at UNICEF say that the number of children used in “suicide” attacks in the Lake Chad conflict has surged to 27 in the first quarter of 2017, compared to nine over the same period last year — UNICEF said [that] in a new report released today.
The increase reflects an alarming tactic by the insurgents: so far, 117 children have been used to carry out bomb attacks in public places across Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon since 2014. Girls have been used in the vast majority of these attacks.
The report highlights the challenges that local authorities face with children taken into administrative custody for questioning and screening, raising concerns about the prolonged periods of custody.
Just to give you an idea, in 2016, almost 1,500 children were under administrative custody in the four countries.
Back here, this morning, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, briefed Member States in a meeting convened by the President of the General Assembly on the new report by the Secretary-General on implementing the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.
That report was released and put out on the website late yesterday. Mr. Feltman underscored that the evolving terrorist threat, together with the increase of mandates, demands from Member States and subsequent scope of work, are the main reasons to change the way in which UN counter-terrorism assistance is institutionally structured.
He noted that the Secretary-General considers that enhancing the UN leadership on counter-terrorism, strengthening coordination and coherence in the delivery of UN assistance to Member States, and increasing our impact on the ground, is indeed crucial.
The full report online and his intervention was webcast this morning.
UNICEF and UNHCR today welcomed a new set of guidelines from the European Commission to protect migrant and refugee children.
The guidelines are the first of its kind, and cover issues such as the appointment of guardians for children, boosting child protection, and ensuring that there are alternatives to detention for children and their families.
From Zambia, I think you, Matthew, raised a question about the issues and I can say that we are following developments in the country.
We are not in a position to fully establish the facts but hope that due process and an impartial investigation into the events will take place.
Zambia has made great strides in consolidating its democracy and has a tradition of peaceful transition of power. Differences should be addressed through a constructive and inclusive dialogue to further advance on the path to sustainable peace and development.
Today, we say thank you to our friends in Kazakhstan who have paid its regular budget dues, which brings us up to?
Spokesman: 80. There you go. All right.
**Questions and Answers
Matthew, go ahead.
Question: Sure. I want to ask you two things. One, there’s a… there’s a… I’m sure you’ve seen the AP investigative story about sexual abuse through the years in the UN, including of, what they call a child sex ring run by Sri Lankan peacekeepers. And, given that the Sri Lankans are now being deployed again to Mali, I’m wondering what the vetting is… or, you know, what the… what the… and also, there was a press conference today by Code Blue near the UN, at which they presented the, the fact, based on a Swedish journalist who went to Bangui, that the children who were allegedly victims of the sexual abuse by peacekeepers received virtually no help whatsoever from UNICEF. So they were highly critical of that.
And I wonder, you were just speaking about UNICEF. What’s the response of the UN system to this, to these two damming reports, one by AP about 2,000 allegations of sexual abuse and, two, more locally here by Code Blue, about a failure to help victims?
Spokesman: Sure. I mean, I think we’ve, I’ve seen the report, and it’s clear that every single allegation of sexual exploitation and/or abuse by UN personnel, be it uniformed or civilian, is appalling and should appal every one of us who proudly work for, for the United Nations.
I think we’re all clearly aware of the shortcomings that we have seen in the UN system over the years on how, whether it’s the UN or Member States, react and deal with issues of sexual exploitation and abuse.
We do believe that in, we are moving in the right direction through various steps that have been taken very recently through the Secretary‑General’s reports, steps that were taken in the last, in the last few, in the last few years.
It’s never enough as long as you have one case. I think the, the AP report, you know, we’ve seen these, these cases. I think every time anyone reads the testimony of a victim, it shocks us to our core.
The Secretary‑General’s new approach, António Guterres’ new approach, focuses on bringing assistance to the victims, putting the victims at the heart of our response. We’re working on improving on how we track cases and how we monitor victims’ assistance.
There is a growing recognition of a need to improve the partnership that we have with Member States, because it needs to be partnerships.
We have seen, I think, in the last few years, greater accountability and greater willingness to partner from, from Member States. I think we have seen greater transparency by the UN in the last few years that I’ve been here, in terms of trying to be as up front as possible in, in reporting, in reporting cases.
You know, we have seen, we’ve seen Member States increase the follow‑through in terms of, of jail terms that were given to people who were found guilty, in terms of, of being willing to have court‑martials in, in situ like we’ve seen in… in the DRC, I think, with the South Africans and, I think, the Tanzanians, if I recall, if I recall properly.
For example, 11, last year, out of the 11 substantiated allegations involving uniform personnel, we saw five jail terms while we’re expecting conclusion for six more.
I think what everybody wants to see, the Secretary‑General, the Member States, all of those of us who work in the UN, I think, especially my colleagues who work, who work in the field, is to see justice for the, for the horrendous acts that these people have, and often children, have suffered.
But I think, if you look at the, at the SG’s latest report, if you look at already the fact that we’re already using the Trust Fund, which is slowly become, getting more money that we’d like to see, to see more, there is a greater and refocused, focus on the, on the victims.
I think the Sri Lankan case that was outlined in Haiti is, was some years ago. Overall, currently, in terms of Sri Lankans, they, they contribute about 500 peacekeepers, uniformed peacekeepers, mostly in UNIFIL, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. They have currently no major contributions to, to MINUSTAH, and they go under, obviously, the human rights screening and the increased screening that we have seen being implemented recently.
Question: One, one quick follow‑up on that. The Swedish journalist who spoke at the Japan Society said, when she went to do a show, basically it was about Kompass initially, and then she tried to speak to some of the alleged victims of the, of the abuse. And one in particular that had a child from a peacekeeper said that the UN system told her not to speak to journalists. And I just wanted to know, from this podium, is that appropriate?
Question: Is that the UN’s position…?
Spokesman: Obviously, I don’t have the details of, of the case. I have no reason to doubt the veracity, but it is clearly not United Nations policy to tell anyone, especially a victim, that they should not speak to the press.
Question: Yeah, just to, the AP story concentrated mainly on Haiti, also mentioned Uruguay as an offender. Has the UN done anything in Haiti specifically?
Spokesman: They are looking, obviously, there have been improvements in tracking paternity issues. We are also looking how to best ensure that victim assistance is followed through while the mission, while the mission transitions out of a more peacekeeping mode to a more political and support mode.
Wait and then, sorry.
Question: On sexual abuse, quick follow‑up, could you please remind us what kind of assistance the UN was giving to the victim or UN supposed to give to the victim since the report came out in 2015?
Spokesman: On, in the CAR [Central African Republic], after allegations came through, UNICEF, through its local partners, gave assistance to victims in terms of often non‑food items, psychosocial following, psychological following. There is, the protocols in place is that the victims are, are to be followed.
The Trust Fund is there to address some of the gaps that may exist in, in the services that are provided, and so the Trust Fund, which has about $436,000 currently, we have plans to use about $225,000 in 2017, which will identify service gaps in the support services that, that victims are supposed to get.
Question: Based on the report that the Sweden journalist just showed the Japan Society, that UNICEF representative in Central African Republic confirmed that right after, a couple months after they lost in touch with the kids. So how did the…
Spokesman: I think…
Question: Are you aware…
Spokesman: …the system as a whole needs to improve. I don’t have the details of the particular, of the particular case. What we do know is that the victims are meant to be followed to ensure they get the proper support.
Yep. Sorry and then, hold on a second, Masood. Yeah, go ahead.
Spokesman: No, no, one second. I…
Question: Given that peacekeeping and the effectiveness and future of it is the focus of the programme of work of the Security Council this month, do you have concerns about how these reports will affect the outcome of those discussions?
Spokesman: Okay. I think the concern that we have is to make sure that all the victims get the support that they can. That’s our primary, our primary concern. It is clear that, in all these kinds of cases, you know, one or two cases, which is one or two cases too much, can have a huge impact on the perception of, of peacekeeping and the effectiveness of peacekeeping.
The first tragedy is what happens to these young, these girls and these boys and these young women and young men and the suffering they’ve had, and also the fact that the actions of very few has such a negative impact on the positive and tremendous work that the vast majority of peacekeepers do every day, day in and day out, who put their lives on the line in, and try to keep peace when often there is no peace to keep.
So we need to address the problem first for the victims and then also for, to ensure that the perception of peacekeeping is not a wrong one.
Masood, and then [inaudible]. Go ahead.
Correspondent: [inaudible] yield to my…
Spokesman: You yield to India.
Correspondent: Give her the… yeah, give her the… yes, go ahead.
Question: Thank you. Pakistan has sentenced an Indian national — he’s a naval officer — to death. He was charged with espionage and sabotage. But India has reacted strongly to it saying that the due process of law and justice was not observed in this case. The person’s name is Kulbhushan Jadhav and that India would consider it as a premeditated murder, to quote it, so, and the fact that, as I said, the due process of law was not observed. Do you have…
Spokesman: We’re not in a position to judge the process or to have a position on this, on this particular case.
Overall, in terms of relations between India and Pakistan, I think we, we underline… continue to underline the need for the parties to find a peaceful solution and to engage through, through engagement and dialogue.
Question: Thank you. Thank you, Stéphane. Stéphane, on this situation that is between Syria, the situation has become bad to worse, and now it seems that Mr. Trump is going to get involved in North Korea, and that seems like a nuclear sort of thing about to happen.
What is it that the Secretary‑General can do to alleviate, at least somehow bring some sort of a temperance in the situation as, at this point in time, China is telling Mr Trump that this should be resolved through peaceful. So, Mr. Trump is saying that it is going to be my way or the highway. So what is going to happen?
Spokesman: Obviously, we would like to see any point of tension around the globe, regional tension anywhere, resolved peacefully through, through dialogue.
As for the particular, your particular question, I will quote the Secretary‑General, who says, let’s, I will not comment on things that have not happened, because the more you talk about things that have not happened, they may happen.
Question: Okay. Well, just a quick reaction to that. I thought this Secretary‑General was all about preventive diplomacy.
Spokesman: He is, but I think I was referring to Masood’s attempt to have me comment on what the President of the United States has said specifically.
Spokesman: What I would tell you is that, obviously, we want all these tensions to be addressed through dialogue.
Question: But might he see a role for himself and… or for…
Spokesman: I think the role for, you know, anytime there is a dispute, the role for the Secretary‑General is really focused on being asked by the various parties to, to get involved. Obviously, this is something he may, he may speak to different parties bilaterally, but there is no, at this point, no formal role for the Secretary‑General.
Question: Okay. And the question I wanted to ask is, with the focus on peacekeeping this month, is there any plan in the near future to have the new USG of DPKO, Mr. Lacroix ‑‑ is…
Question: — to come speak…?
Spokesman: There is no plan, but I know, I’ve spoken to him, and I know he’s keen to come out at some point and meet all of you.
Question: But does he have any comments that you’re aware of or reaction that you’re aware of efforts spearheaded by the US to significantly reform and perhaps cut back on [inaudible]…?
Spokesman: I think his comments are, his opinion is that of the Secretary‑General as the Secretary‑General expressed in, last week, I think, on Thursday afternoon in, in the Security Council. And the Under‑Secretary‑General’s role is really to implement, to share the Secretary‑General’s vision and to implement it.
Rosiland… oh, and then, sorry. We’ll let Oleg, who’s been very patient, who was here slightly before you.
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. With the appointment of Virginia Gamba as SRSG on Children and Armed Conflict, who is going to take her place as the head of JIM? I’m sorry if you mentioned it.
Spokesman: No, I did not mention it. I will get you something on that, but that doesn’t, the work of the JIM will continue as, as needed.
Question: How long was the planning to nominate Ms. Gamba to the new position in the works?
Spokesman: I guess, since, I’m not really sure how to answer your question. There were a number of candidates. She was interviewed, and she was, she was chosen. So the job was, I think you could say it was posted, since the job was posted on the Secretary‑General’s website a few weeks ago. She decided to apply as, I think, we all have jobs that we all decide sometimes to apply for other jobs, and sometimes we’re lucky enough to get them.
Question: Was there any effort to dissuade her from leaving her current post, given the importance of the work…
Spokesman: I think…
Question: …or no?
Spokesman: …the importance of, of the importance of the JIM continues. People switch jobs all the time. The structures remain and the structures remain at work.
Masood, and then Mr. Lee.
Question: Thank you. Yeah. Stéphane, I just wanted to, this question has been asked again and again on the legality…
Spokesman: Has it been answered again and again?
Question: Yes, sir. And you have, you have not been able to respond again and again.
Spokesman: I have a feeling we’re going to, go ahead.
Question: Yes, this is about the legality of the United States’ action in Syria, which it was in response to a, the chemical attack in Syria where, which is still not determined, whether it was done by the Syrian Government or the other operatives in, in Syria.
So, without any determination whether who was responsible, the United States took the action. [inaudible] United States, I mean, United Nations’ legal department has not been able to come up with a definition whether it was legal…
Spokesman: I will…
Question: …or illegal?
Spokesman: We will not here get into the debate of legality or illegality. I would refer you back to the statement that the Secretary‑General issued on that issue.
Evelyn, you haven’t had a question.
Question: [inaudible] Yes. The IOM had a report about migrants in Libya, the offer to the slave market. Do you have anything on that?
Spokesman: I did yesterday. I flagged that yesterday.
Correspondent: Oh, I’m sorry.
Spokesman: That’s okay.
Question: Sure. One thing, on Ms. Gamba, was that, will she play a role in the… the… the upcoming report on Children and Armed Conflict?
Spokesman: The mandate, yeah…
Question: When is the report due?
Spokesman: I think the report is due in June, I believe.
Spokesman: I mean, as I said, the report, just like the JIM, the structures and the mandates remain, people, their staff, and they’ve got their work and the leadership changes.
Question: Okay. What I wanted to ask is, I saw on the Secretary‑General’s schedule that he swore in today Louise Arbour, as well as Mr. Lacroix. One, I wanted to know, I’ve asked previously, how big the Louise Arbour office is going to be given… it was through, through ACABQ, they approved her position and a head of office, but nothing else, to my understanding. What is the intended size of the…
Spokesman: I don’t know.
Question: …of the office?
Spokesman: I’ll see if I can find out.
Question: And will she be getting… working with just one staff, or how does it work?
Spokesman: I think she may have some staff on loan, but she is all sworn in and ready to go.
Question: And I wanted to ask you two questions about this Ng Lap Seng, previously John Ashe, case. One, there’s been now a guilty plea by John Ashe’s lone remaining co‑defendant, Jeffrey Yin. And in his guilty plea, he states that South‑South News intentionally paid him in cash in order to evade US tax laws. That’s what he’s pled guilty to.
Given the… the supposed inquiry by the UN, what’s the response? It’s not a matter of waiting until the end of the case. This is a…
Spokesman: My understanding is South‑South News is no longer accredited as a news organisation to the UN.
Question: Okay. My second question has to do with the Office of the South‑South Cooperation. It was obviously central, it’s central to the case, and we haven’t heard very much about it.
Now, I’ve been told sort of that it’s a… basically, that there’s a, there’s the current head of it, still described as a new head after 18 months, that his deputy is also Argentinean, and that there’s a move to get two deputies.
And what I’m wondering is, it doesn’t seem, from people that work there, that much has changed in the office. And I’m wondering, has there been…
Spokesman: Well, I think…
Spokesman: …the leadership has changed and…
Question: Was there ever a press conference in terms of what they learned?
Spokesman: You’re welcome, you’re welcome to…
Question: I’ve tried.
Spokesman: …to contact them but, okay.
Yes, Evelyn. Go ahead.
Question: Just briefly…
Spokesman: You can use… [inaudible]
Question: The Russian delegate on Friday said that the JIM was prejudiced against Syria. Has this gone to or was, yeah, was not fair to Syria, needed a better regional representation. Has this gone to Ms. Gamba at all, or, I mean…
Spokesman: I think the… the JIM… the… the…
Question: …it’s Argentina, Romania, and Germany.
Spokesman: …the JIM and the joint mission is a body of the Security Council. I have no particular comment on what the ambassador said.