The following is a near‑verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
**Republic of Korea
The Secretary‑General arrived in Seoul a few hours ago for the start of his official visit to the Republic of Korea. On Wednesday evening, he was hosted for an informal welcome dinner by the Korean Foreign Minister, Kang Kyung‑wha, at her official residence.
Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will be in Seoul for most of the morning. We expect him to meet at Yonsei University with his predecessor, Ban Ki‑moon. He will then deliver remarks at the inaugural Global Engagement & Empowerment Forum on Sustainable Development, taking place at the University. He’s also expected to meet with the Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea, Lee Nak‑yon.
The Secretary‑General will then drive to the site of the Olympic Winter Games at PyeongChang. There we expect him to spend part of the afternoon touring the Olympic Village, where he will meet with athletes from various delegations.
The Secretary‑General also released a message on the Olympic Truce for the Winter Games and Paralympic Winter Games. He said the Games showcase the best of the world’s athletic achievements, and the best of humanity, and that this humanity transcends political differences. He called on all parties to conflict to observe the Truce and help spread the culture of peace.
The Security Council met this morning to discuss the situation in Kosovo, and heard a briefing by Zahir Tanin, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative there. Mr. Tanin spoke of the recent murder of Oliver Ivanović, the Kosovo Serb politician. He noted that, as Kosovo police lead the investigation, Pristina and Belgrade have come to an understanding to share information and support the process. Failure to identify the perpetrators, he said, would not only be a terrible miscarriage of justice, but would also undermine confidence on all sides.
Mr. Tanin noted that many challenges remain about furthering the rule of law and strengthening human rights in Kosovo, and that efforts in these areas must be guided by best international practices. He noted that the youth, peace and security agenda remain important in Kosovo, and that building trust between communities remains essential for his Mission (UNMIK).
Our colleagues from the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said today that more than 300 child soldiers have been released by armed groups in Yambio. A total of 700 children have been screened and registered for release in phases — 563 from the South Sudan National Liberation Movement and 137 associated with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition. Eighty‑seven of the children released today are girls.
The UN Mission has been leading the project to release the children for more than six months, including providing peacekeeping troops to escort religious leaders into remote areas to make contact and negotiate with the armed groups. It has also worked closely with key partners such as UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), State and local authorities, as well as community groups.
The Special Representative of the Secretary‑General in South Sudan, David Shearer, said the challenge ahead is to ensure the young people have the financial, practical and emotional support they need to undertake training, find jobs and access opportunities to reach their full potential. The Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba de Potgieter, also called on the international community to support their reintegration by providing adequate resources.
**Central African Republic
Our colleagues from the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) report that yesterday in Bria, in Haute‑Kotto prefecture, anti‑Balaka combatants fired gunshots into the air within the PK-3 internally displaced people’s camp. No casualties were reported. The UN Mission reinforced its positions to enhance security in and around the camp. A cordon and search operation is also being carried out in response to the shooting.
And on 5 February in Zémio, in Haut‑Mbomou prefecture, UN peacekeepers conducted an operation to expel an estimated 30 armed combatants from the UPC (Unité pour la Paix en Centrafrique) who had reportedly settled in the area. Following the operation, the combatants left their positions without resistance.
Our humanitarian colleagues are concerned for the safety and protection of 2 million men, women and children living in Syria’s Idlib Governorate, where air strikes and shelling continue to be reported daily, resulting in civilian deaths and injuries, as well as the destruction of civilian infrastructure. In the past three days, the UN has received reports of air strikes across Idlib that resulted in civilian death and injury, and damaged medical facilities, schools and other civilian infrastructure. Over 1,200 schools in Idlib reportedly remain closed due to the ongoing hostilities, impacting thousands of students.
Meanwhile, the escalating fighting in eastern Ghouta continues to affect civilians and civilian infrastructure in the besieged enclave. Over the last 48 hours, intense air strikes and shelling have reportedly resulted in dozens of civilian deaths and many more injuries. The UN reminds all parties to take all necessary measures to safeguard civilian lives and to protect civilian infrastructure, as required by international humanitarian and human rights law.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al Hussein, said today that the declaration of the State of Emergency in the Maldives by President Abdulla Yameen [Abdul Gayoom] and the resulting suspension of constitutional guarantees have swept away the checks and balances and separation of powers necessary in any functioning democracy. He warned that this could potentially lead to a greater number of violations of the rights of people in the Maldives.
He said: “The suspension of several functions of the judiciary and Parliament, and the restrictions on a series of constitutional rights, create a dangerous concentration of power in the hands of the President.”
And the High Commissioner for Human Rights today ended his official visit to Indonesia. Speaking to the press, he said that there are some dark clouds on the horizon, but that he is encouraged by the positive momentum and he hopes the common sense and strong tradition of tolerance of the Indonesian people will prevail over populism and political opportunism. The transcript of his remarks is online.
In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the World Urban Forum opened today. The event, which is convened by UN‑Habitat (United Nations Human Settlements Programme), gives countries a chance to take stock of progress made towards sustainable urban development. Some 20,000 people are expected to attend the Forum and they include local government officials, urban planners, civil society groups and members of the private sector and academia. More information can be found on UN‑Habitat’s website.
I have a senior appointment to tell you about: today, the Secretary‑General is appointing Dereje Wordofa of Ethiopia as a Deputy Executive Director [Programme] of the UN Population Fund, known as UNFPA. He will succeed Natalia Kanem of Panama, who was recently appointed as Executive Director of UNFPA. Mr. Wordofa brings to the position over 28 years of experience in providing strategic leadership, advocacy, programme development and managing operations in complex and challenging environments, largely focused on Africa. We have more in a bio note in our office.
We’ve been asked about a photograph of the Secretary‑General circulating on Twitter in Guatemala. I want to make it clear that the quote accompanying that photograph is not from the Secretary‑General.
And today, our thanks go to four more countries which have paid their dues in full. They are: the Bahamas, Bulgaria, Germany and Turkmenistan. Thanks to them, the Honour Roll has reached 44.
Correspondents are invited to a screening and discussion of the film entitled Familiar Faces, Unexpected Places: A Global African Diaspora, tomorrow from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in Conference Room 4. Produced by cultural anthropologist and Executive Director of Afrodiaspora, Inc. Sheila Walker, the film highlights the countless Afro‑communities found in unexpected parts of the world, such as Turkey and India, and shows how African descendants maintained elements of their cultural identity. For additional information, please contact Cathy Smith at DPI (Department of Public Information).
And for the noon briefing guest, tomorrow I will be joined by Hubert Price, Head of the United Nations Support Office in Somalia. And that is it for me. Yes. Majeed?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Farhan. You mentioned these numbers about the terrible situation in eastern Ghouta. And, while I asked this question before that UN doesn't have any personnel on the ground to obtain those information about eastern Ghouta, what… it's the same situation in Afrin. Why you don't have the same information about the damages, the risk to civilians in Afrin while you have the same thing for eastern Ghouta?
Spokesman: In all of those places, whether Afrin, eastern Ghouta or elsewhere, we rely on the best available sources, and we try to cross‑check our information. So the information we put out has gone through a procedure of verification, whether we have people on the ground or not.
Question: And about the call… sorry. Follow‑up on the same topic, about the call for cessation of hostilities for a month in Syria, can you tell me more about that? Is the Secretary‑General… why the Secretary‑General himself didn't call for it?
Spokesman: You know one of your colleagues asked that very question yesterday, and I said that he supports the call that is made by the team on the ground. But it's the team on the ground that is… has expressed its concern about the surge in fighting in several different locations, whether we're talking about eastern Ghouta, Idlib, Afrin, or Raqqa. And so they have made a call for a cessation of hostilities of what they hope would be a minimum of a month so that they could evacuate people who need medical attention, as well as provide aid. Yes, please?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. There are also dozens of… dozens of people in eastern Ghouta waiting for medical evacuation. Is the UN talking to the Government? And, if yes, what is the Government response?
Spokesman: Well, part of what we've been trying to do in all of these areas is talk with all of the local authorities, including the Syrian Government, to see whether people can be evacuated. But it's the large number of needs that we have that has compelled us to ask all parties for a cessation of hostilities, and we'll see where we can go with that. Seana?
Question: Sorry. Can you comment on the fact that one of the delegates accompanying the North Korean delegation, along with Kim Jong Un's younger sister, is a Mr. Choi Hwi — I'm not sure how to pronounce it — who seems to be on a sanctions list? Is there any comment or reaction that you can offer to us now? Thank you.
Spokesman: Well, I have no knowledge in depth of the list of people. If there's any problems that would involve the list of sanctions, we would wait for advice from the Security Council Sanctions Committee dealing with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to avail themselves of the information and make whatever determination they see fit.
Question: And you haven't received any notification?
Spokesman: Not from the Sanctions Committee, no. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. There are… there are serious developments happening in Syria and in Lebanon over the attack by Israeli missiles against Syria today. I'm sure you have heard about that. Also, the building of a wall in the disputed territory between Lebanon and Israel. What is UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) reporting to you about that?
Spokesman: Well, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon has made clear that they had hosted a tripartite meeting on Monday involving the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces to deal with different issues of contention between them. And so we would hope that any other problems, including concerning a wall, would be dealt with through that trilateral format.
Question: But, today, Israel went through… forward with that, and they started building, although they did not agree about anything.
Spokesman: Well, like I said, the participants did meet on Monday. We do hope that they will continue to use that format so that we can resolve these issues through dialogue.
Question: Obviously, Israel has ignored that. And about the missiles which were hitting attack on Syria today?
Spokesman: We have no first‑hand information about that. We're aware of the media reports. Yes, Mario?
Question: On Guatemala, a newspaper there has published minutes of the meeting that the Secretary‑General held last week with the Foreign Minister, and they… according to that, she asked for the removal of Mr. [Ivan] Velásquez… and the Secretary‑General refused. Can you confirm that?
Spokesman: We have no comment about the meeting that took place. As you're aware, there was an exchange between the Secretary‑General and the Foreign Minister. As with many of the conversations that we have on these topics, we are not going to put out any of the details of that.
Question: But… and can you say if the Secretary‑General still supports the job that the Commissioner is doing after listening to the Government?
Spokesman: We continue to support the work of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, CICIG, as well as the work being done by Commissioner Velásquez. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, I'd asked you yesterday about this clearing of [Deputy Executive Director, Programme] Luiz Loures in UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS), and you'd said that the… essentially, the decision was made by, I think you said, OIOS of the World Health Organization.
Spokesman: It's not called OIOS. It's the Internal Oversight body of the World Health Organization.
Correspondent: Okay. It's being alleged and it's by Code Blue and as reported in the Guardian that, in fact, the decision… while… they don't say… they call it Internal Oversight Services, the UN's investigation team. Then they say that the report is reviewed by a three‑person panel within the agency. The panel then presents recommendations to the agency's Executive Director. And they say that Mr. [Michel] Sibidé [sic], although chall… once challenged by investigators, appointed a subordinate but still called himself the final decision maker and that he was also a witness in the case, i.e., he was interviewed by the investigators apparently seeking to exonerate Mr. Loures and then was the final decision maker. So, given what the Secretary‑General said about zero tolerance, it seems like it's important to get a clear answer whether Mr. Sibidé or his designee made the final decision to clear Mr. Loures.
Spokesman: Well, you'd need to get the details from UNAIDS. As far as I'm aware, Mr. Sidibé, not “Sibidé”, Mr. Sidibé had recused himself from the process, but any further details, you need to get from UNAIDS.
Correspondent: It's reported publicly that he still maintained his position as the final decision maker and that he appointed the person who would make the decision, which is not really what recusal is about.
Spokesman: Again, you'd need to get the details from UNAIDS about how the process was conducted.
Question: Is the Secretary‑General comfortable… given today's Guardian report about essentially a cover‑up of sexual harassment at UNAIDS, is he comfortable with this as the way the UN system deals with such allegations?
Spokesman: I wouldn't agree with your characterization of it as a cover‑up. They went through an investigative process and, beyond that, you will have heard what I said yesterday and what I told the Guardian, and I stand by what I… what those were. Yes, Benny?
Question: To follow up on the Israel‑Lebanon issues, there's a growing dispute over maritime demarcation regarding gas drilling and the… the… some are calling for international mediation. Is the UN getting involved? Will… is there any way for the UN to get involved?
Spokesman: On that, what we say is that the UN supports the right of both Lebanon and Israel to exploit their maritime resources in accordance with the international Law of the Sea. The UN encourages both countries to continue efforts to address the delimitation of their respective maritime exclusive zones and the exploration of their national resources in a manner that does not give rise to tensions and, rather, builds confidence through dividends of cooperation. The United Nations encourages both sides to use diplomatic means to address outstanding issues. It is important that the process is not being advanced unilaterally where disputed areas are concerned, as security implications could arise. And the UN remains ready to work with all parties concerned to facilitate efforts towards a resolution of this issue, in the context of the exercise of the UN's good offices. Yes, sir?
Question: Is UNIFIL… is UNIFIL working on that issue at all?
Spokesman: Well, like I said, we're prepared to work with the parties in the context of our good offices.
Correspondent: On the same…
Spokesman: Yes, Linda?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Regarding the trip to the Olympics, it was mentioned that [Under‑Secretary‑General for Political Affairs] Jeffrey Feltman would be going along with the Secretary‑General, and I know that, you know, specific plans have not been announced in terms of who the group might meet with. But I was wondering, since Mr. Feltman is a rare UN official who has actually travelled to North Korea and met with North Korean officials, such as the Foreign Minister, is there any chance that he, because of this expertise, might be meeting with representatives from North Korea?
Spokesman: Well, I don't want to speculate. I don't have any meetings to announce on this, but the schedule of bilateral meetings tends to be fluid on trips, and we'll have to see whether this is something to say later on. But, at this point, there's nothing to announce on that. Hold on. Yes, Majeed?
Question: Yes, Farhan. Today, at the Security Council, there's some informal interactive dialogue about the work of UNAMI (United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq), about a team of… independent team to assess the work of UNAMI in Iraq. Do you have any comments about that?
Spokesman: No, we want to make sure that the Member States, you know, feel that all of our missions, including our political missions, are working as effectively. So, it's good to have this sort of dialogue and see what we can do to improve the work of our various missions. Yes?
Question: Yeah. Number one, Turkey today targeted the only pumping… water pump in Afrin. I'm sure you have heard about this, because this has resulted in a big humanitarian problem in Afrin. Over a million people now are deprived of water, like the situation which was prevailed in Aleppo some time ago. Are there any arrangements to at least deliver water to these people?
Spokesman: I'm not aware of whether we have any way to get more water to Afrin. We'll check on that. But regarding the actions by the militaries there, we have called and continue to call on all sides to avoid attacks on civilians and on civilian infrastructure.
Question: And Palestine, tension is very high after [the] killing [of] three Palestinians in the last couple of days. We haven't heard any statement from Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov or anything from you or from the mission. Why ignoring the situation there?
Spokesman: No, we're evaluating the situation. Obviously, we want all sides to remain calm as these incidents occur. But, beyond that, as you're aware, Mr. Mladenov does make regular reports to the Security Council about the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and he will do so again later this month.
Question: Usually, with any killing of any Israeli, there is condemnation coming straightforward from the United Nations. Why, when Palestinians are killed, nobody cares to mention them unless we ask?
Spokesman: We do mention them, not just here but, like I said, during the periodic briefings to the Security Council. Yes?
Question: Yeah, just understand that a letter has been sent by the Israelis to the Secretary‑General and the President of the Security Council on continued violations of resolutions in Lebanon by Hezbollah and not being enforced by the Lebanese Government, not being enforced by UNIFIL. Have you seen that letter? And what is your response to that?
Spokesman: I don't know whether the letter's been formally received. We'll have to check. Mario?
Question: Just to follow up on Guatemala. The President of Guatemala, Mr. [Jimmy] Morales, is coming to New York this week. Is there any contact scheduled with anyone from the Secretariat?
Spokesman: None so far as I'm aware. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, it seems that the UN Population Fund, UNFPA, in Burundi has both funded or given equipment worth some 50,000 euros to a Government radio station, sponsored and initiated by [President] Pierre Nkurunziza's wife, Denise. So, some people are saying it seems strange that, amid reports that the Secretary‑General is concerned about Pierre Nkurunziza trying to remain in power and the fundraising for refugees and… and deep concern about the country, that the UN system would be, in fact, giving money to a Government radio station. Is… is it… is that the Secretary‑General's position of what the UN system should be doing?
Spokesman: Well, this is not about the Secretary‑General but about projects done by the UN Population Fund. I believe the UN Population Fund does a number of projects throughout Africa in terms of support for radio programmes to put out and disseminate their messages. This may be in line with that, but we're checking with them to see whether this is in line with other such efforts…
Question: They seem to say that they've actually given all of the equipment for the radio station to function, and it comes at a time where the Government of Burundi is, in fact… has locked up some radio journalists, burned down some radio stations in the past, and is currently telling a station not to report on… on attempts by the youth militia to… to make people pay them money in a region of the country. So, I guess I'm just asking you more pointedly, should the UN system, if they're concerned about freedom of radio press in a country, be giving equipment to a Government station?
Spokesman: Well, that's a question to address to UNFPA, but the UN system, including the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has raised concerns about the fair treatment of media in Burundi and will continue to do that. Yes?
Question: Yeah, revisiting the issue of gas blocks between Israel and Lebanon, there are reports that some mediation is already under way. You mentioned that the… you support diplomatic. Are you aware about any mediations, whether the Americans or others?
Spokesman: Well, I'm… what I'm aware of is the effort by our people in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon to chair the trilateral meetings involving the Israel Defense Forces and the Lebanese Armed Forces. And that is one avenue. If there are others that can help the parties come to agreement, that would be helpful. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about… about Cameroon. There are reports — and I don't… I would assume the UN would be in some position to confirm or deny them — that there are Chadian soldiers at the… in the country at the request of the Paul Biya Government to help put down what they would call unrest in southern Cameroon. There's also a video of a beheading of a… of an anglophone southern Cameroonian that's making the rounds. I don't know if… again, I'm always cautious in looking at that, but it seems like things are getting pretty bad if people are being beheaded and there are foreign soldiers being brought in. Does the UN… can it confirm either of the two things? And does it have any… what is Mr. [Francois Lounceny] Fall doing? Things seem to be significantly worse than they were two weeks, two days, two months ago.
Spokesman: No, we can't confirm these reports. Mr. Fall is continuing with his work. I don't have any particular update on his work in Cameroon to share to you. Of course, he's working in other countries as well, but he has been continuing with his contacts. Yes, Ben?
Question: Yeah, just does the Secretary‑General believe that UNIFIL is actually doing its job properly? We continually hear about constant violations of UN resolutions. What… what is your comment?
Spokesman: Yes, he does. UN peacekeeping forces are no stranger to criticism from various parties on the ground, but the UN Interim Force in Lebanon has done a great job over the decades of maintaining a situation of peace and stability in a region that is… where there is a considerable amount of tension and crisis. Yes? No, her.
Question: Thank you. Back to Syria. With all the military escalation and the humanitarian crisis, I was wondering if Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura would brief the Security Council sometime soon.
Spokesman: Well, he briefed recently on the latest developments, including in Sochi, and we'll have to… and he will brief them again as these… as the talks progress. But they have been apprised by Mr. de Mistura of his diplomatic efforts. Yes?
Question: On North Korea, so, if it turns out that there is… that, as part of the North Korean delegation to the Olympics, there's a person who is on the… the sanctions list, would that affect the decision of the Secretary‑General whether to meet with that delegation at all?
Spokesman: I don't engage in hypothetical questions. We'll have to see what the Sanctions Committee would say. Yes?
Question: On Yemen, do you have any update about humanitarian aid, how the… how the flow is going?
Spokesman: Our humanitarian efforts continue. As of today, the situation in Aden is reported as calm, and so there has been calm in a couple of other areas. So, we're continuing about our work. There's nothing unusual to report today. Yes?
Question: How about Hodeidah? Do you have any reports about new ships or vessels arriving there?
Spokesman: No. There have… we've received periodic updates. But, yes, we're continuing to have ships dock and berth in Hodeidah. I don't have any numbers to give you for over the last couple of days, though. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you again about Kenya. I definitely heard your statement that the UN believes the Government or all sides should comply with the law. This person, Miguna Miguna, that I'd asked you about yesterday who had been, at that time, arrested, he's since been flown out of the country against his will on KLM, purportedly deported, but he's actually a Kenyan citizen that ran for office and was fully vetted. So, I'm wondering, seems like… does this… is this something that's caught the notice of the UN system, that a major… the main lawyer for the opposition party that ran for Government has been flown out of the country against his will?
Spokesman: Yeah. It has caught our notice. I don't have anything to add to what I said yesterday about this, but, yes, we're aware of that. Yes?
Question: On Yemen, is the UN aware of reports of threats to maritime passage at Bab el‑Mandeb by various political forces in Yemen?
Spokesman: We've seen the reports. We don't have anything to say about it at this stage. Have a good afternoon.