The following is a near‑verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
The Secretary‑General will be arriving shortly in Abidjan, where he will attend the fifth African Union-European Union summit in Abidjan. Tomorrow, he will deliver remarks at the summit, which has the theme, “Investing in youth for a sustainable future”. We’ll try to make those remarks available to you on an embargoed basis. While there, he will also hold several bilateral meetings before coming back to work at the office Thursday afternoon.
Colleagues at the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) report four attacks in the Kidal region today. Three separate camps in Aguelhock, Tessalit and Kidal came under rocket and mortar attack this morning. Search operations in pursuit of the perpetrators are ongoing. The Peacekeeping Mission also reports that peacekeepers on patrol this morning in Kidal city were fired upon, but, thank God, no casualties were reported. We obviously condemn these attacks that may constitute war crimes under international law.
The eighth round of intra‑Syrian talks started today in Geneva. The delegation of the Syrian opposition is already in Geneva and met in the afternoon with Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria. Mr. de Mistura also received a message that the delegation of the Government of Syria would arrive tomorrow. This morning, the Special Envoy met with the P5 countries at the Palais des Nations in Geneva; that meeting was initiated by the delegation of France. And today, a UN/Syrian Arab Red Crescent inter‑agency convoy entered Nashabieh in besieged eastern Ghouta area to deliver food, health and nutrition items for 7,200 people in need. You’ll recall that the convoy attempted to enter yesterday but was forced to return due to fighting in the area.
The Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, spoke out against what he called the cowardly terrorist gun attack and suicide bombing that took place in Baghdad yesterday evening. He said that, despite defeats at the hands of the Iraqi security forces, Da’esh remains a potent force, and Iraqis need to remain vigilant in the coming period. Mr. Kubiš added that the terrorists’ acts to stoke fear among Iraqis will not succeed. You can read more online. Also on Iraq, our humanitarian colleagues there say that water shortages in Telafar in northern Iraq have been affecting some 20,000 people. Aid partners are seeking solutions but are impeded by hampered access due to checkpoint closures, which means humanitarian deliveries must be made using longer routes.
At the Security Council today, the Assistant Secretary‑General for Peacekeeping Operations, Bintou Keita, said that the deployment of the Regional Protection Force in South Sudan is making good and tangible progress. However, certain operations of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) continue to be impeded by the national authorities and the security situation in South Sudan remains precarious. Ms. Keita said she was particularly concerned by the real risk of an escalation in violence with the onset of the dry season, and the Government’s push to assert military dominance across the country.
She also requested the Security Council to impress on the Government to uphold its obligations and cease obstructions and restrictions of movement imposed on both UN uniformed personnel patrols and UN human rights officers. Finally, she underlined the importance of having unified and unconditional international support to the political process. It will be crucial for the Government and all political parties to constructively engage in the peace agreement revitalization process, and start by immediately ceasing all hostilities and taking defensive military positions, she concluded.
Earlier in the day, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, and the Director General of the International Migration Agency (IOM), Ambassador William Lacy Swing, briefed the Security Council on the situation of migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean. Mr. Grandi said that the grave abuses perpetrated against migrants and refugees along the Central Mediterranean routes can no longer be ignored, and stressed that the international community’s inability to prevent and resolve conflict is at the root of their plight. Without legal pathways to safety, refugees and migrants are exposed to torture, rape, sexual exploitation, slavery and other forms of forced labour, he said, adding that where governance is weak, transnational criminal networks take root.
He also said the UN Refugee and Migration agencies are working together to tackle this issue but noted that there are dramatic funding gaps, especially in sub‑Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, Ambassador Swing also briefed the Council. Today, the IOM reported that this weekend the number of migrants or refugees who have died on Mediterranean Sea routes has surpassed the 3,000 figure so far this year. This makes it the fourth consecutive year that migrant drownings have reached this number.
Also from IOM, newly released data shows that almost half of all identified child trafficking cases begin with some family member involvement. According to the data, the extent of family member involvement is up to four times higher than in cases of adult trafficking, suggesting the need for more prevention efforts targeting children and their families. The data also shows that children are most likely to be coerced into trafficking through physical, sexual and psychological abuse, while adults are more likely to be controlled [by] having their documents confiscated, or having someone exploit their irregular status in a foreign country. The IOM said it will use the data to strengthen counter-trafficking interventions and also outlined a series of measures that governments can take to tackle this issue. More information online.
The Chef de Cabinet, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, is speaking today at a special event in Queens — at the Queens Museum — marking the seventieth anniversary of [General Assembly] resolution 181. This is an event organized by the Permanent Mission of Israel. She read a message on behalf of the Secretary‑General, in which he said that since Israel became a Member State of the United Nations in 1949, our cooperation has come to encompass many areas — from peacekeeping and sustainable development to humanitarian challenges and disaster relief around the world. The Secretary‑General said he is determined to strengthen this relationship. He will continue to speak out against anti‑Semitism, Holocaust denial, hate speech and the use of anti‑Semitic appeals by violent extremist groups to recruit new followers. And he will also continue to do his part to help Israelis and Palestinians take the historic steps to achieve a two‑state solution and attain the peace that has proven so elusive for so long.
**Holiday Benefit Concert
Finally, I just want to flag that this coming Sunday, at 7 p.m., you can help fight hunger by attending a benefit concert which will feature a performance by our colleagues at the UN Chamber Music Society. The concert is free. However, donations are very much welcome. Proceeds will be directed to the Food Bank for New York City. The concert will take place at All Saints Episcopal Church on 60th Street in Manhattan at 7 p.m. on Sunday. If you want to do something against hunger and enjoy music, pick up the flyer in my office. Mr. Abbadi?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. What is the main message that the Secretary‑General will be delivering to the African Union‑Afr… European Union summit in Abidjan?
Spokesman: It will be a message focussed on youth, on the need for economic development, also on the overall need for development in the African Union. Ma… yes, Masood.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. There's this report that Vice President of the United States [Michael] Pence is saying that President [Donald] Trump is about to move United States embassy to Israel… to Jerusalem. What is the position of United Nations on this move made… to be made by United States?
Spokesman: I think we've made our position clear in the past, and I'm not going to speculate on what may happen. Mr. Lee and then Erol.
Question: Sure. Just… actually, one bureaucratic thing and then one more substantive thing. I wanted… I just wanted to know if you can confirm this…
Spokesman: Bureaucracy is substance at the UN.
Question: Okay. Let's see. Let's see. Can you confirm that Hafiz Saeed, the Pakistan who… who… recently released by Pakistan and on the al-Qaida sanctions list, has requested to be removed? It's some controversy in… in the… South Asia, and I was trying to find out if there is an ombudsman or ombudsperson… this is the bureaucratic part… appointed by António Guterres to replace the one who left in August. Is there? And, if not, when will there be one?
Spokesman: I will check on the ombudsperson's post. On your first question, that's a question to be asked of the relevant Council Sanctions Committee.
Question: I think they are supposed to file with the ombudsman. That's why I'm asking you as the…
Spokesman: Yeah, but I think… I'll check. I think, for some reason, it's a different ombudsperson. I think the Council… and I may be struck down with lightning for being wrong, but I think the Council has its own ombudsperson for sanctions listing separate from the UN ombudsperson.
Question: I'm glad we started this friendly, because I want to ask about… about China Energy Fund Committee (CEFC). Yesterday, you'd said that you don't see any… in the indictment anything… you or your team don't see anything sufficiently UN related to trigger an audit such as what's held in the previous case…
Spokesman: I don't think I said that but…
Question: Well, that's how I read… all right. You said no staff member is involved. So I have two questions. Number one, C… CEFC, China Energy Company, is a member of the Global Compact. And I remember in the previous case, Sun Kiang Ip was immediately removed because of the indictment even though they weren't name in the indictment. So, again, I'm asking, is there a different standard or some kind of…
Spokesman: No, I don't think there's a different standard. I mean, I think, obviously, this happened very recently over the holidays. We'll check with our Global Compact people, but the policies have not changed. And their efforts to ensure that companies that are… that companies that belong to the Global Compact are up to snuff.
Question: Okay. And the other question is, yesterday, I… at the bail hearing for Cheikh Gadio, it emerged that… that the person… one of the four people paying bail, his spouse, is the resident rep… is a UN official in… in Equatorial Guinea. Turns out she's the Resident Representative. So, I wanted to know, with all… you know, obviously, family values and all, but you'd said that there's no UN staff member involved. Is paying the bail for an accused briber… does that constitute involved?
Spokesman: I don't know. I'll have to check.
Question: And do you think… Can you check on that? Can you get some…?
Spokesman: I don't doubt the veracity of what you're telling me, but I will just have to check. Erol?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Two questions. Number one, there was a recent story, very good story, by IPS that actually republished that NGO [non‑governmental organization]… one NGO at the UN is very much supportive or requesting forming of database on sexual abuse and paternity, if I'm right. I think so. And I would like to know, what is the position of Secretary‑General of that? Is he supportive of that, what he thinks?
Spokesman: We have done great strides in tracking down paternity issues involving peacekeepers, and obviously, we keep… we very much keep data up to date on that. Your second question?
Question: My second question, Pope Francis went to Myanmar. He delivered a strong statement. What is the view of the Secretary‑General of his visit? Not only… not only because he's the Secretary‑General of UN, but because he's a Catholic from Europe and how he views on that… in the terms of visit of Pope.
Spokesman: I think the fact that he's… the Secretary‑General may be… António Guterres may be a Catholic from Europe is a known fact, but I think it's separate from his role as Secretary‑General. We, obviously, very much welcome the Pope's visit to Myanmar, then on to Bangladesh. I think anything that can help in the process of helping the Rohingyas, helping the people of Myanmar, and helping alleviate the suffering is very much welcome. Yes, sir?
Question: Yes. The ICC [International Criminal Court] spokesperson was upstairs a few minutes ago, and he described enforced disappearance as a continuing crime. What is the position of the Secretary‑General with regards to nations that refuse to cooperate with the UN working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances to resolve those crimes, solve those crimes, bring the perpetrators of the crimes of enforced disappearance to justice? What's the position of the Secretary‑General?
Spokesman: The Working Group is an important human rights mechanism. One that is obviously separate from the Secretary‑General, but I think it's incum… we believe that it's incumbent on all Member States to cooperate with all the mechanisms of the human rights machinery here at the UN. Nizar?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Is there any progress with regard to delivery of aid to Yemen, or did I miss anything before I came?
Spokesman: No, I have not gotten an update. As far as I know, there have been no major updates that I've received today.
Question: Do you mean that only one vessel managed to get to Hodeidah…
Spokesman: That's the latest information that I have.
Question: And no contacts with the Saudi Coalition about that?
Spokesman: Well, obviously, we continue to be in contact with all the relevant parties to try to help alleviate the situation. As… whenever there are humanitarian updates, we share them with you. Evelyn?
Question: Yes. Could OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] give you regular updates, if you could ask…?
Spokesman: It's one of the things OCHA does very well is giving me regular updates.
Correspondent: I know but usually, we're getting UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] says this; WHO [World Health Organization] says this.
Spokesman: Well, we do our best to coordinate. As we know, coordination saves lives and time. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you. I wanted to know that the… about the repatriation of the Rohingya Muslims that is… I mean, that is about to take place. But there are many Rohingya who say that they don't want to go back because of reprisal by the Government of Myanmar. What is the United Nations going to do about pacifying these people that they should return back to their own homeland?
Spokesman: Look, whether we're talking about Rohingya refugees in Myanmar or any refugees, no one should ever be forced to move or forced to return home. All returns have to be voluntary and have to be to their place… to the place where people came from, not in any other location. It's about the freedom of refugees and the rights of refugees. Nizar? Go ahead.
Question: Presently, they have a place in Bangladesh where they are temporarily declared this part of refuge… in the enclave part of refuge for the Rohingyas. They can stay there until such time they are pacified enough to go back to their homeland?
Spokesman: Well, I think it's clear to everyone that Bangladesh… the Government and the people of Bangladesh have been extremely generous in welcoming Rohingya refugees. I mean, the flow of people that we update you regularly on, the numbers are mind‑boggling. But as we said, for any refugees anywhere, once the security situation improves in their home country, people should be allowed for safe, dignified, and voluntary return to their place of origin. Nizar, and then we'll…
Question: Given the gravity of this humanitarian situation in Yemen, 2.5 million are already cut off water and fuel and other supplies, and they… some reports say that it's too late probably for 2.5 million people to be rescued if this situation continues like that. Why the Secretary‑General doesn't make a… pay a visit to Yemen? This is probably the biggest crisis in the world, also to Myanmar, where there is ethnic cleansing.
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General has been extremely clear and extremely vocal about the desperate situation in Yemen. I think no one can accuse him of being silent. The same thing goes for the situation of the Rohingyas in Bangladesh. You know, a Secretary‑General visit is important, obviously, at any time, but we'd never want to get in the way of the delivery of aid. But the fact that he has not personally visited… the fact that he's not personally visited Bangladesh, I think, in no way lessens his outrage at what has been going on in the area.
Question: What's happening in Yemen could amount to genocide, given that they are… they're depriving whole nation of food and water and everything. Why don't… don't they refer to… why doesn't the rapporteur on genocide come up with any statement about this?
Spokesman: That's a question for the Special Rapporteur on genocide. Yes, sir?
Question: Yeah, you said the main message of the Secretary‑General in the African Union summit is the need for development. There are quite several reports about the killing of peacekeepers in Africa, Mali or Central Africa. Will he discuss security situation with African leaders?
Spokesman: I think there… He will have a number of bilateral meetings; obviously, depending on his interlocutor, the security situation will come up. We continue to flag here the violence that our peacekeepers in Mali and in the Central African Republic, to say, to just mention both, face on a daily basis. It's something that's very high on the Secretary‑General's mind. Yes, and then we'll go to you.
Question: Yes. Thank you. I just want to understand what you said earlier about refugees and, if I understood you correctly, you said that even if their home country is declared and verified to be safe and the refugees have settled in another country, let's say Bangladesh; Myanmar's declared safe as an example, that it's still their voluntary decision to go back even if the country that they're now residing in can point to as being overburdened in caring for these people? I mean, if the whole purpose of the refugee statute is to… treaty is to give protection, asylum, to those being persecuted or in fear of being persecuted, once that threat is removed and verified to be removed, why is it then the dec… up to the refugees to decide as opposed to the destination country that they can stay?
Spokesman: I think what we never want to see is a situation where people are forced, are pushed by force, to return somewhere where they may not feel safe. We have seen in the past, in Kenya, people… you know, Somali refugees returning. We've seen cases of Somalia… is that people have rights, and we never would want to see anyone being pushed by force. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you, Mr. Stéphane. On Bangladesh, forced disappearances is going on in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Prime Minister claimed that forced disappearances in the US and UK is much higher than Bangladesh, and US and UK, they're involved in the forced disappearances. And… but the scenario is just yesterday a [inaudible] father of a [inaudible], Mr. Williams, he's disappeared. And last two months, an assistant professor of a private university who is working for the anti‑radicalization, Dr. Mubashar Hassan, he's disappeared, and he's disappeared from the UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] office. And media reported that he's under the intelligence agencies. They are… you know, he's under them. So, what is your observation about the higher level of disappearances in Bangladesh?
Spokesman: I don't have details of the case as you mention. I think, as a matter of principle, countries need to investigate all disappearances and to cooperate with the relevant human rights mechanisms. Yes, sir? And then we'll go to Linda. Sorry.
Question: Yes, Stéphane. It's the… the Secretary‑General, what is… does the Secretary‑General consider enforced disappearances a continuing crime?
Spokesman: I don't… I wasn't there for the briefing. I'm not sure I understand what the… the… the definition of continuing crime. What we know is that there are… continues to be disappearances, enforced disappearances, all over the world. Linda. Sorry. You've been waiting.
Question: Thank you, Stéph. I was just wondering what the SG's point of view is regarding the potential publishing of the list of companies or corporations doing business with Israeli settlements and if there's been any movement in terms of this.
Spokesman: That's really an issue for the Human Rights Council. We don't have any comment at this point. Mr. Lee.
Question: Right. I'm going to stay logistic or bureaucratic. In his visit to Côte d'Ivoire, the President of Cameroon, Paul Biya, has announced that himself, his spouse and a large team will be there as well. Can you give us some… do you… one, do you know specifically whether he'll be meeting with him to follow up on the… the somewhat famous golden statue meeting, at least in Cameroon? And can we just get a list of who… who does he plan to meet with? And will each of them involve a readout of some kind… even if…?
Spokesman: No, we will try to give you as many readouts as possible as the situation… as the cases in most of these summits, meetings kind of scheduled as they happen. Things are planned, but then we like to confirm them once they have. So we will keep you posted as… as they happen.
Question: Is… are, for example, Mr. Fall, Mr. Chambas, are they all there as well…
Spokesman: I'm not aware that they are there.
Question: Okay. And can I ask something else? I wanted to ask you actually before… I've asked you at the end of these briefings, but I wanted to ask you about the, quote, mystery ASG. I did notice that the word "unique" was taken out.
Spokesman: Nobody seems to know how that…
Correspondent: But it remains that this thing called the risk capacity office is basically an AU [African Union] office.
Spokesman: My understanding it's… really has to do with WFP [World Food Programme], as well. I'm…
Question: Okay. And the final one has to do with financial disclosure. The… the… under Ban Ki‑moon, much to his credit, he… he instituted the public financial disclosure programme. So I've tried to look at it. Doesn't look like there's much going on in terms of in the last year under António Guterres.
He himself filed, but, for example, the Deputy Secretary‑General, there's no filing at all. And there had been filings by others since she was, you know, sworn into office. So, I'm wondering, is there some… is the plan… is that programme still active?
Question: Are all the filings going to be…?
Spokesman: Completely. I mean, I'm not aware of any change in the policy or in the plan.
Question: Because the most recent date is from 2015.
Spokesman: No, I understand.
Question: Yes. Yes, Stéphane. On this suppression… Israeli and United States move to suppress this blacklisting of Israeli company… company and the companies sending in their goods into the… into Israel and are able to sell, and Nikki Haley, the ambassador of the United States, says that it is… is a bashing. What is the position on this blacklisting of the companies, which is now about to take place or to be released?
Spokesman: My dear Masood, I would refer you to my… the answer I gave to your colleague Linda about 2 and a half minutes ago, which is it's a matter that… it was a decision of the Human Rights Council, and at this point, we have no comment on it. Mr. Abbadi.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. As you know, the Secretary‑General met yesterday with the high‑level advisory group. Were there any conclusions reached?
Spokesman: I think it was a very… it was… it was a very informative discussion that the Secretary‑General had with his… his advisory group, and I think he plans… it's… it's… it's a big part of his mediation prevention efforts, and he plans to call on them as needed and called on them to approach him with ideas or suggestions as well. It's very much a two‑way… a two‑way street.
Question: What is their main goal at this stage?
Spokesman: This goal is to… at this point, they are available to the Secretary‑General as a resource. Mr. Klein.
Question: In the interest of transparency… all right.
Spokesman: All right. Let's go.
Question: It will be an easy question, I assure you. In the interest of transparency, will there be some sort of formal public disclosure of the… with measures of the performance of the various bureaus, departments, offices, agencies under the Secretary‑General? I mean, I… it's very hard to, you know, discern in some coherent manner whether these agencies and bureaus and offices are measuring up to the standards that he's trying to set in his reform programme. So, is there… is there a plan to make a more coherent disclosure of the performance metrics and stacking up?
Spokesman: I think… you know, two things. There's a reform process. The Secretary‑General will be reporting to ECOSOC on the development reform shortly and then to… to the… to the General Assembly on… on the management reforms and… and other reforms. His idea is to build a… a UN that is more… more efficient. I'm not sure I really understand what you mean. I mean, the Secretary‑General expects, obviously, all his departments to perform at the highest… at the highest possible standard, and he will keep senior managers accountable.
Question: Is there a plan to kind of quantify this, to the extent possible, you know, with stated objectives and measure… measurements… metrics…?
Spokesman: This is part of the ongoing dialogue that we have with Member States on an annual basis. I'll leave you in Brenden's hands. Thank you.