The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Secretary-General is disturbed by reports of the killing on Sunday in Kinshasa of at least six people during protests calling for the full implementation of the 31 December 2016 political agreement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Reports suggest that 63 people were injured. He calls on Congolese authorities to conduct credible investigations into these incidents and hold those responsible accountable. The Secretary-General urges the Congolese security forces to exercise restraint and to uphold the Congolese people’s right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. He also calls upon all concerned to ensure full respect for places of worship. The Secretary-General, once again, calls on the Congolese political actors to work towards the full implementation of the 31 December 2016 political agreement, which remains the only viable path to the holding of elections, the peaceful transfer of power and the consolidation of stability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Turning to Yemen, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, has informed the Secretary-General that he does not intend to continue in his position beyond the end of his current contract, which ends in February of this year. The Special Envoy takes this opportunity to express his sincere thanks to the Secretary-General for his strong and determined support to reach a political solution to the conflict that has engulfed the country. In this moment, the thoughts of Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed go first to the Yemeni people who are worn out by this conflict and are enduring one of the most devastating humanitarian crisis in the world. The Special Envoy remains committed to pursue through diplomacy an end to the violence and a political solution that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Yemeni people, until a successor is named. And I would like to add that the Envoy concluded yesterday a four-day visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where he met with the Yemeni President and Minister for Foreign Affairs, as well as a number of Yemeni political and Government figures.
The Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Miroslav Jenča, is currently on a three-day visit to Iraq. Mr. Jenčamet yesterday with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Vice-President [Osama] al-Nujaifi, and the Speaker of Parliament, Salim al-Jubouri, as well as the recently appointed electoral board of commissioners. They discussed how the UN can best contribute to Iraq, particularly on the national and provincial council elections scheduled for 12 May, among other topics. Today, Mr. Jenča is visiting Mosul. He has witnessed first hand the resilience of the city’s people and their determination to rise from and rebuilding their lives after more than three years of suffering under the Da’esh terrorist regime. Tomorrow, he will meet Vice-President Nouri al-Maliki, Foreign Affairs Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, cleric and party leader Ammar al‑Hakim, and women and minority leaders. We have a note with more details.
As you will have seen, yesterday, we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General condemned the attack that took place in Afghanistan, at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul. He extends his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and expressed his solidarity with the Government and people of Afghanistan.
Turning to Liberia, the Special Representative and Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mohammed ibn Chambas, represented the Secretary-General at the inauguration of George Weah as President of Liberia in the first peaceful handover of power in the country since 1944. The Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Bintou Keita, and the Head of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), Farid Zarif, were also present at the ceremony in Monrovia. The UN congratulates the Government and people of Liberia on this historic milestone in the country’s democracy, and we wish President Weah success in fulfilling his vision for Liberia. The UN has been honoured to walk this historic path with the people of Liberia. We expect the Special Representative, Mr. Zarif, to speak to you here later this week.
Back here, at Headquarters, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, spoke at the fourth Annual Symposium on the Role of Religion and Faith-Based Organizations in International Affairs on the topic of migration. She highlighted the work of faith-based organizations around the world, who are often on the frontlines of crisis, providing food, shelter, education, and medical and psychological support to migrants and refugees, and stressed that their contributions are essential to put in place processes that will make migration safe for all. The Deputy Secretary-General also noted that the world is undergoing a crisis of solidarity, with political prejudice, intolerance and xenophobia against refugees and migrants becoming pervasive in all regions, and emphasized that faith-based organizations can help tell the positive story of migration and to ensure a responsible and proportionate response from media and policy makers to migration challenges.
You will have seen that on Saturday, the Secretary-General spoke at the Holocaust Remembrance ceremony at the Park East Synagogue, in which he spoke on anti-Semitism and the continued threat caused by right-wing extremists. And those remarks were put online.
The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, will brief the “C-34” Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations this afternoon on the report on peacekeeping fatalities and injuries due to violent acts. He will inform Committee members of the content of the report and the Secretariat’s action plan to respond to the report’s findings and recommendations. This follows informal briefings to troop- and police-contributing countries and the Security Council last Thursday. We expect the report and a summary of the action plan to be released to Member States and to you a bit later today.
At 2 p.m. today in the Visitors’ Lobby, the Secretary-General will speak at the “Peace Is… Acceptance” event, where he will talk about the need to pursue peace through many different pathways, including mediation, prevention and art and culture. An Afghan refugee performer, Sonita Alizadeh, is scheduled to sing at the event. And later at 3 p.m. he will speak to the Economic and Social Council on his reform plan for the Development System of the United Nations, his report that is released.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partners today released a study which highlights the 10 most under-reported humanitarian crises of 2017. At the top of the list is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. UNHCR said that, while the country has made headlines for its nuclear programme, its humanitarian situation has received the least media attention globally. Other crises that rarely made the headlines were Eritrea, Burundi, Sudan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, the Lake Chad Basin region (which encompasses Niger, Cameroon and Chad), Viet Nam and Peru.
In his address to the Executive Board of the World Health Organization (WHO), its Director-General, Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus], said he was deeply saddened by the shocking news that two polio workers, a mother and daughter, had been shot dead in Pakistan. It is an outrage that a mother and her 16-year-old daughter could be murdered while trying to protect the health of children, he said, recalling that in the first three quarters of last year, 44 health workers were killed while doing their jobs, trying to save and protect the lives of others. This will not derail us from eradicating polio, or from the services we give to save lives, he said. You can find his full address online.
And today, we thank our friends in Canada and Luxembourg, who have paid their regular budget dues in full, bringing us up to? Thirteen. Mr. Lee, you have the floor.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Okay. I was going to ask you about the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], but I want to ask you about… as I'm sure you know, Jan Beagle has written to The Guardian about the series about sexual harassment. And, among other things, she said, unequivocally, the UN staff are free to speak… free to speak to the media, which, if true, is a great thing. I just wanted to ask you about, there's a… there's a UN rule that says that… that for statements or announcements to the press, permission is required, and I'm aware of a number of cases, but, for example, the case of Emma Reilly in the UN system at the Office of the [United Nations] High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), she was explicitly told that she could not speak to the press. And I know that because that was explained to me and… so… so can you just… what I want to do, rather than…? Can you make clear… if, in fact you're announcing that staff can speak freely and will not be retaliated against, this would be the time.
Spokesman: I understand. Okay. There are media guidelines in which staff members are told they can speak to the press in their areas of responsibility. Obviously, I think it's clear that they should tell… they should do it in concert with their supervisors. There need to be some coherence. But, I think the larger point is, if a staff member feels they have been wronged, they have not… they have exhausted every avenue, they feel they live in a climate of fear, the press remains an outlet.
Correspondent: But, I guess my… my… my… she didn't say that you have… I understand, as whistle-blowers, there's all kinds of rules of what… you have to exhaust your ability inside the system before you speak, but that's not what Jan Beagle told The Guardian. She said staff aren't… aren't prohibited at all, and I want to read you something that… that Emma Reilly… this was quoted to her. “As a conduct provision, within the UN system, it would not be proper for international civil servants to air personal grievances or criticize their organizations in public.” And, obviously, the type of harassment we're talking about…
Spokesman: As I said, there are media guidelines, and, obviously as… I'll repeat what I've said. If people feel they've exhausted every avenue and they need to “blow the whistle” on a situation, the press remains an outlet.
Question: Right, but if they get retaliated against, can they hold up the letter and…?
Spokesman: We do not want to have… We are working, I think, with great effort in ensuring that we create an atmosphere in which staff members are… feel they can speak up to their supervisors, to other outlets, and report on harassment or retaliation. That is our focus. Yes, sir. And then…
Question: Thank you. Thank you, Stéphane. Two questions. The first is, who will replace Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed? And the second question is, why no statement from Secretary‑General about the situation in Afrin, Syria?
Spokesman: Sorry. Say again. I… sorry. I was trying…
Question: Which one?
Spokesman: Both. I'm sorry. I…
Question: Well, first question is, who will replace Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed… I'm sorry, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed? And the second question is about…
Spokesman: Well, that's an ongoing… let me get focused back to where I actually am. That's an ongoing process. As you know, we do not want to have… we're… when we have something to announce, we will. We would very much hope that there is little or no gap between the departure of the Special Envoy and the arrival of his successor. As for Afrin, we're obviously following that situation extremely closely. We're very much concerned about the ongoing reports of fighting and military operations in the Afrin district. As far as our humanitarian colleagues have told us, there are about 324,000 men, women and children, including 126,000 already displaced. So, the risk to civilians is great. The continued fighting, the military operations, has placed these civilians in harm's way. As I said, many of these people have already been displaced once, if not twice. In fact, 60 per cent of the population of the district is in need of humanitarian aid and relies on humanitarian aid. We have been preparing for a large‑scale response depending on the needs of the civilian population. And again, we cannot stress enough the need for all parties involved to protect civilians, to protect civilian infrastructure, and to respect international law.
Question: One follow‑up please, Stéphane. The issue of access, does the UN have access to the…?
Spokesman: The… if conflict is ongoing, if fighting is ongoing, access remains greatly challenged. Linda?
Question: Thank you, Steph. I was just wondering, regarding the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], I believe you mentioned that it… it is the… reportedly the least per… least reported humanitarian crisis in the world today. Does that also mean that it's the least funded humanitarian operation?
Spokesman: Yes, exactly. I think we'd have to look… I mean, the question… I think the question to look at, is it the one where there is the largest gap between the needs and the actual funds? We'll look at the OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] numbers and I'll let you know. I don't have the numbers on top of my head, but it's a very valid question. [He later added that the 2017 response plan for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was 31 per cent funded — $35.4 million of $113.5 million was received.] Madame?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Following up on the Turkish troop attack, US‑backed Kurds in Syria, do you know if the Secretary‑General is… called President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan or in contact with [Donald] Trump regarding this?
Spokesman: There have been contacts at various level, and Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman has also been briefing the Security Council on the situation. Sorry, Nizar, then Masood.
Question: Yeah. On the situation in Hodeidah, can you elaborate a little bit about who is running Al Hodeidah seaport now, as we hear that more aid is coming through it? And, also, the cranes, are they really being reinstalled?
Spokesman: The cranes, as far as we were able to report last week, they are operational. The four mobile cranes are operational, which is allowing us to bring in aid. Obviously, the level of aid that's coming in is not sufficient to meet the needs of the people, and we're trying to… we would ask anyone who has impact and influence to ensure that the pipeline is as full as possible. I don't have any comment on the security situation as to who controls what…
Question: But… another thing, there were rumours that Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed was censured in Saudi Arabia for not being able to arrange a deal good enough for Hodeidah. Can you confirm or deny that?
Spokesman: No, I can't confirm it. I'm not aware of Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed being censored in any way, shape or form. Nizar, I'll come back to you. Richard?
Question: I know the UN would rather not comment on these types of situations, but could you give us any information on a UN convoy in Kabul, unless I missed it, that was attacked? Maybe… people are missing; somebody was killed. Can you comment?
Spokesman: No, I'm not aware of… it's not that I don't want to comment, but as usual, you may know more than I do. I'm not aware of a specific convoy having been…
Correspondent: Let me rephrase. A UN vehicle. Remove the word "convoy".
Spokesman: Listen, I'm not going to comment on any… it's our policy, as you say, not to comment on any reports involving these kinds of incidents, as it may jeopardize the safety of staff involved. Oleg and then Masood. Sorry.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Can you please comment on reports that a UN employee was kidnapped in Kabul? And are there any efforts to get her released?
Spokesman: Sorry. I'm… I think that was Richard's question.
Correspondent: I'm really sorry, then. But, anyway…
Spokesman: I won't censure you.
Question: The regular question on Sochi: Is there any clarity whether the UN is going to take…?
Spokesman: No, we're obviously watching those developments very closely and are in touch with the organizers, but no decision as of yet. Masood?
Question: I know… Stéphane, thank you. I know you're a little reluctant to answer these questions. The situation in occupied Kashmir is getting bad to worse, and India and Pakistan are exchanging fires across the border. Do you have any… I mean, have anything from the Secretary‑General on this? Is the Secretary‑General concerned about the situation…?
Spokesman: We're obviously aware. We're following this… what's been going on, really for the last 10 days, and I think our… again, the Secretary‑General would encourage both sides to address any outstanding issues through dialogue.
Question: I mean, on the my… my… my… I just wanted to… as to what is the reason… this is one of the most… the crisis simmering for a very long time, and the border exchanges and people are being killed. But, why isn't the Secretary‑General so keen to involve himself in this crisis?
Spokesman: As a matter of principle, all right, I'm not talking specifically about this issue, but about any issue where there is conflict between parties, the Secretary‑General's good offices are always available. And, as in any issue, both parties or more than… you know, if there are multiple parties, everyone needs to agree on involving the United Nations. That is true of any mediation effort. Yes, sir?
Question: Good afternoon. There's been reports of armed attacks in North Central Nigeria by herdsmen since 1 January this year, and UN, you know, seems to be silent. There's not been any statement from the UN on the more than 100 people being killed in the last three weeks and, in the last one year, over 1,000. I want to ask, is the Secretary‑General aware, you know, of the crisis?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General… we are very much aware of the violence that we've seen in North… in that part of Nigeria. We've seen these horrific attacks by… claimed by Boko Haram of using children, using women as suicide bombers. We've condemned these attacks, and we will continue to do so.
Question: Yes, but the current one is not Boko Haram. It's armed herdsmen, you know, killing farmers, armed herdsmen killing farmers in North Central Nigeria.
Spokesman: Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't hear… I didn't hear the… herdsman… I… let me get back to you. I will have something for you on that. Sorry. I misheard your question. Luke, you haven't asked yet.
Question: On this CAIR Report, the media monitoring… 8 of the 10 most under-reported crises are in Africa. I'm curious if the UN sees that as a pattern and maybe a sign that the messaging strategy on these humanitarian appeals for Africa needs to be rethought?
Spokesman: Look, you know, we try to flag these issues as much as we can. We do it every day from here. The media are free to make their own choice. We also understand that there are constraints to coverage, as well. Some of these crises are in places that remain very dangerous. Some of these crises remain in places that are hard for journalists to access. So, we understand those are factors that may very well lead to the low level of coverage. Nizar?
Question: Yeah. Ms. Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador, said in Washington, D.C., recently that her pressure on the United Nations yielded the sacking of a director who labelled Israel as apartheid, something Jimmy Carter, the President, used. So, what… is that true?
Spokesman: I don't know what… what person are you referring to?
Question: Well, this is what I'm asking about. If this is true… who's the director… who… who…?
Spokesman: I don't know… you have to… I'm always happy to comment on things, but I need a bit more facts before I can do so.
Correspondent: Well, I can repeat my question.
Spokesman: No, I heard your… I heard you. I heard you very clearly, but I can't comment on vague names.
Correspondent: Well, she did not name the… the… the director who has been sacked, and she said a director. Maybe she meant Rima Khalaf…
Spokesman: I haven't seen her comment. I don't know what it's referring to, so I really can't comment. Mr. Lee?
Question: Well, was Rima Khalaf sacked or she resigned?
Spokesman: My understanding, if I recall, is that she resigned.
Question: Under pressure?
Spokesman: That's a question for her.
Question: Okay. I actually want to ask you about one of the… the… the things you did commented on Friday, and it was the… the Uhuru Kenyatta, the President of Kenya, being named as a Global Champion of Youth by UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund]. It's given raise rise to a lot of controversy in the country, given the unrest around the most recent election including the killing of youth by the Government. And I've come to understand that, at least after… I believe after the briefing that we had on Friday, you… you said that… that there is no appointment or you understood there to be no appointment. Is there an appointment or not of… of… of this controversial appointment of Uhuru Kenyatta as a Global Champion of Youth Empowerment by the UN system?
Spokesman: I think that's a question for UNICEF. My understanding is that the Executive Director spoke about the need for youth to be engaged, and the President said he would support that. But, beyond that, I'm not aware of any specific appointment.
Question: Okay. And I also wanted to ask, because you confirmed on Friday that Mr. [Olusegun] Obasanjo was going there in some capacity, and it's also reported that he's going to the inauguration of George Weah in Liberia. How lengthy was the trip to Kenya?
Spokesman: No, I think it was just a couple days. I'm not… as far as his presence in Liberia, I'm not aware that's UN business. Linda?
Question: Regarding Davos, Ban Ki‑moon attended a number of Davos conferences over the years. I was just wondering what the latest is in terms of [António] Guterres.
Spokesman: No, he will… he attended last year. Because of scheduling issues, he will not be going this year. Okay. Thank you.
Question: Can I ask one more? Thank you. Since the Deputy Secretary‑General was there, this controversy has been ongoing of leaders of southern Cameroons or Ambazonia being held in Nigeria. And it's said today they were brought to court charged with running camps. When she was there, did she learn anything about this? Did she have any communications? Because it's creating quite a…
Spokesman: I understand. As soon as I have something, I will share it with you. Thank you.