The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General concerning the Islamic Republic of Iran:
The Secretary-General is following with concern recent developments in the Islamic Republic of Iran. He deplores the loss of life in the protests. He urges respect for the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, and that any demonstrations take place in a peaceful manner. Further violence must be avoided.
And I’d also like to point out that today the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, has also issued a statement concerning Iran.
Our humanitarian colleagues remain deeply concerned about the protection and well-being of tens of thousands of civilians in north-eastern Hama and southern Idleb Governorates in Syria, following increased hostilities which have reportedly resulted in scores of deaths and injuries and displacement in the area.
Yesterday, seven people were reportedly killed and at least 18 people injured after an airstrike hit the Khan Elsobol town in southern rural Idleb. On the same day, 25 people were reportedly injured and several shops and facilities were damaged when shelling hit the main vegetable market in Jisr-Ash-Shugur city in western rural Idleb. Further airstrikes and shelling incidents were reported in the southern countryside of the governorate.
The UN and its partners are coordinating the humanitarian response in the area through cross-border operations from Turkey. Priority needs include shelter, food, medical supplies, water and sanitation and other humanitarian assistance.
The United Nations reminds all parties to the conflict of the legal obligation to take constant care to spare civilians and civilian objects.
We are also extremely concerned over a recent string of attacks on health-care facilities inside Syria. On 31 December, a local hospital in the Idleb Governorate was reportedly damaged by an airstrike, while one day earlier a medical warehouse belonging to an international NGO [non-governmental organization] was reportedly damaged by barrel bombs.
We continue to call on all the parties to the conflict to end the destruction of hospitals and other civilian infrastructure that is essential for the civilian population and to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
On Libya, our colleagues at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) tell us that they chartered their first flight of 2018 under the Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme, assisting 142 returnees departing from Libya to Gambia.
The UN migration agency’s next charter is set for next Monday, when around 180 Nigerian nationals are scheduled to be assisted to Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city and commercial hub.
That flight will bring to close to 20,000 the number of migrants IOM has escorted home from Libya since the beginning of 2017.
IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) has identified 432,574 migrants in Libya, mainly in the Tripoli, Misrata and Almargeb regions, and estimates the number of migrants to be between 700,000 and 1 million. More details are available on their website.
**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
And last, I had been asked about the reopening of a communications channel between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea and I have the following to say:
It is always a positive development to have dialogue between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea. In that context, the Secretary-General welcomes the reopening of the inter-Korean communication channel. We remain committed to ensuring the implementation of Security Council resolutions on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and hope that enhanced diplomatic initiatives will help to achieve that goal.
**Questions and Answers
And that is it for me. Are there any questions? Yes?
Question: Well, you basically answered my first question. And my second question is, what's the Secretary‑General reaction on two leaders, US and North Korea, playing chickens with rest of our lives? Has he said anything? Is he going to mention anything…?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I think I just said what I intend to say about the developments on the Korean Peninsula. Regarding rhetoric, I think I'd mentioned yesterday that we tend not to comment on it specifically but believe that any unhelpful rhetoric needs to be avoided.
Question: Yeah, but, yesterday, the comment that [Donald] Trump and North Korean leader… they did not make that comment when you made that comment. So this is the… this is basically new… actually, they are playing chickens with the rest of the world's lives.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the point I was making yesterday remains valid today, even with anything that occurred afterwards, that we want to make sure that any unhelpful rhetoric is to be avoided.
Question: The Secretary‑General hasn't made any extra comment?
Deputy Spokesman: We don't have anything particular to say about this. We're not going to respond to any particular war of words as they fly by. Yes?
Question: Farhan, do you have any notification on the proposed UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees] cuts that the US Administration, both the President and Ambassador [Nikki] Haley, said they're going to do?
Deputy Spokesman: I'm not aware that they were proposing any cuts to the UN Relief and Works Agency. I did talk to my colleagues at the UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, and they said that they have not been informed by the United States about any particular cuts. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Yesterday, responding to a question on Iran, you said the Secretary‑General was evaluating the situation. Does he think that the situation threatens international peace and security?
Deputy Spokesman: You'll have heard the statement I issued at the top of this briefing, and that's where we stand on this. As you know, a lot of the question of evaluations of threats to international peace and security are made by the members of the Security Council. Yes, Oleg?
Question: Thank you, Farhan, follow‑up on Iran. Has the Secretary‑General or anybody of the senior staff of the UN have… have they contacted the Iranian officials, whether through the mission or maybe a phone call to Tehran?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe some of the officials here will be in contact with their Iraqi counterparts, including our Chef de Cabinet. At this stage, I don't have anything to report from the Secretary‑General's side, but you've [seen] what he had to say… or, rather, you heard what he had to say, and that message goes out to the Government and people of Iran. Yeah?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about Yemen. Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi has been quoted as saying, there's no more need for talks, that their military advances by, I guess, the Saudi‑led coalition make talks with the Houthis unnecessary, and they will not take place. Since the Secretary‑General has said so often that this has no military solution, is there any response to this? And, also, yesterday, we heard from the President of the Security Council that, not only is Yemen not in the programme of work, but a mere footnote, but it's now somehow a… on a two‑month schedule for briefings. Is that… is that the understanding of the Secretariat? Is… is Mr. … what… what is… I guess, to bring it all together, what is Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed… what is his response to what Hadi has said? And why isn't he briefing the Council this month?
Deputy Spokesman: Regarding briefings to the Security Council, as you're aware, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is ready to brief the Security Council whenever they wish to meet with him. Obviously, it's up to the members of the Council to determine when they need a briefing, but he remains prepared and ready to brief at any moment and will continue with his work regardless of what the schedule of briefings is. Regarding the comments from President Hadi, I don't have anything specific to say about what he said, but we maintain and we'll continue to maintain that there is no military solution to the conflict, and the parties need to come to the table and deal with each other and resolve their issues through negotiations.
Question: And I wanted to ask something about the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo]. I def… I definitely saw, you know, during the… the statement by the Secretary‑General, but beyond the people that were killed in this crackdown, there was a period of time in which the… the… the internet, SMS messages, were all turned off by the Government as part of its strategy. And so, I was left… there was some con… there was some consternation among LUCHA and other groups in the Congo, that MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] was tweeting out pictures of the peacekeepers dancing as some sort of a New Year's greeting, and people said this was sort of a bad timing given that, at that very moment, civilians were being killed. Does MONUSCO have its own internet? Meaning, when the internet is cut… is shut down by the [Joseph] Kabila Government, how is it that MONUSCO is still putting things out when citizens facing repression are unable to?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, MONUSCO has the same facilities. It doesn't have Internet independent of what is available in the country, but it does have its own communications facilities. Obviously, it does… anything that we put out for New Year's greetings, including the New Year's greetings that the UN system puts out in countries around the world, are not meant to be a disrespect for other events happening on the ground. But, at the same time, we have made clear, including through the Secretary‑General's statements, our concerns about the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Yes?
Question: Thank you. As you probably know, the US is pushing for a Security Council meeting on the protests in Iran. Does the Secretary‑General have any views as to whether this is a… an appropriate topic for the Council to take up? And would someone be prepared to brief on it?
Deputy Spokesman: Obviously, we remain observant of what the Council intends to do. If Council members agree on a meeting and want a briefing from the Secretariat, we would stand ready to do that, but any decision on scheduling a meeting is in the hands of the Security Council and its membership. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. When is the Secretary‑General going to give the press conference that he planned earlier?
Deputy Spokesman: On 16 January, so about two weeks from yesterday, at 10 a.m., I believe. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. A follow‑up to my own question. Is… on the Palestinian aid, if… is there any comment from the Secretary… by the Secretary‑General on what would happen if this US aid is cut off to UNRWA, to the Works and Relief Agency, because it is about a quarter of the budget?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I don't want to speculate on what may or may not happen. At this stage, like I said, the UN Relief and Works Agency has not received any indication of any change.
Question: But can you say the effects if, you know, the aid is needed?
Deputy Spokesman: Obviously, it's important for all of the countries that fund the UN Relief and Works Agency to maintain those funds. As you know, over the years, we've made it very clear that the level of funding we have actually would need increases to ensure that we don't have to cut services for the many, many Palestine refugees who are part of the caseload, not just in the occupied Palestinian territories, but in the countries throughout the region.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask a couple things about envoys. Since… given the… the budget's inclusion of funds for the… the naming of a Myanmar spec… envoy. Has the Secretary‑General taken any steps? What's the timeline for actually naming such a person?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we don't, at this stage, have an announcement to make about the naming of a person. Once we do, we will. But now that the budget has been agreed, we will comply with it and proceed with the naming of an official.
Question: And I also wanted to ask about Cyprus. It's on the agenda this month of the Security Council, at least the peacekeeping mission, but is there… is there a thought of replacing Mr. [Espen Barth] Eide with a good offices envoy?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, there's no announcement to make about any particular change. If we have an announcement on another Special Adviser, we'll let you know in due course.
Question: And final… the… the… the… the President of Equatorial Guinea, President [Teodoro] Obiang, has now said formally that there was an attempted coup in the country and that, quote, mercenaries were stopped. And I was wondering… I was looking everywhere to see whether the UN, which has a presence there, has had anything either to say about this coup attempt. Mostly be… I know I'd asked before about Coumba Mar Gadio. She's the Resident Cor… representative and a… coordinator — excuse me — and also the spouse of Cheikh Gadio, who has been indicted for bribery inside the UN. Is she still in her position? And, if so, what does she say about an attempted coup in the country in which she's the Resident Coordinator of the UN?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we have not made any particular comment on recent incidents, but I'll check with our colleagues in the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) and see if there's any particular reaction to make on that. Yes. Did you have… no? Okay.
Question: Yeah, I have a question if nobody else has. Okay. Yesterday, while US Ambassador was speaking at the stakeout, I noticed some of her staff was walking through the reporters and checking out who is who, and especially another one was among the videographers, looking at who's shooting what. Is it kind of getting norm that we as a free press, we start getting checked on from other countries? Does UN know such a thing's happening? I have the pictures to prove what I’m saying.
Deputy Spokesman: No, I don't believe that there's any… I don't believe that Member States should do anything that could be seen as impinging on the rights of the press here. However, in terms of what the US is doing, I'm not aware that they were doing anything of the sort. You might want to check with the US Mission what the particulars are of their actions.
Question: Security of the ambassadors are… rely on the UN security force. Right? And…
Deputy Spokesman: Everyone in the building… their security is ensured by the UN security… But, like I said, that's really a question for my US colleagues, my counterparts there, not… it's not…
Question: Does the UN permit them to do that?
Deputy Spokesman: No, I… like I said, the press here have the rights to go about their work…
Question: So why they were checking who's shooting what?
Deputy Spokesman: I think that's really a question to ask about… the US. I don't speak for them. Yes. Yes. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. The situation in the Middle East is completely at the deadlock, no discussions, nothing happening. What does the Quartet plan to do?
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, there's no meetings or announcements of the Quartet to make. Once there is anything, we'll let you know. Pam?
Question: This is not a current question, although it has to do with 2018. During the capital improvement of the building, the capital… what do we call…
Deputy Spokesman: Master Plan.
Question: Master Plan. There was supposed to be disabilities added, including Braille at the voting. So if a… if a UN delegate votes who is visually impaired, they have to ask someone to tell them which is red and which is green. There's no braille there. Is… then there was some sense that it was supposed to happen in 2018. Do you know of any plans to adjust it so that a visually impaired delegate doesn't have to ask someone else, which is… how to vote, which, of course, would reveal their… that confidence?
Deputy Spokesman: I'll check how we're proceeding in our efforts to have more disability compliance there.
Correspondent: Okay. Thanks.
Deputy Spokesman: Thanks. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, there's a… there's a debate in India about trying to make Hindi, they say, an official language of the United Nations, but I think maybe they… in a… I guess I wanted to ask you, what… what are the steps? There's a… there's a statement in question hour by the Foreign Minister of India that it requires a two‑thirds vote and that… and that all Member States would bear the costs. But I definitely saw in the budget that there's Portuguese and Kiswahili, for example, are… they're a part of the budget, but I'm just wondering, are any of the expenses of the… where the UN does things in eight languages, like in social media accounts, are any of these borne by the countries themselves who put the language forward or they're all… is all language, even beyond the six, done by the entire membership and… and what is the status of Hindi as a possible language in the UN?
Deputy Spokesman: The cost of language services are part of the operating costs of the UN, and so they're borne by the Member States as it becomes part of the regular budget. But that budget needs to be approved, as you know, by the Member States. So whenever they approve posts for multilingualism, the Member States are approving the budget for those posts.
Question: So, how would a country like India go about proposing to have their language made, similar to Portuguese or Swahili…
Deputy Spokesman: That's really something they need to take up with the Member States. Have a good afternoon.