The following is a near‑verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
Starting off with Burkina Faso: the Secretary‑General is closely following the reported attacks on the Embassy of France and the Army Headquarters in Burkina Faso’s capital that took place early this morning. He spoke briefly by phone with the President of Burkina Faso this morning to express his solidarity. The Secretary‑General strongly condemns the attacks and is concerned over the reported casualties and injuries. We are in contact with the authorities, to whom we have expressed our solidarity. The Secretary-General has asked his Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel, Mohammed Ibn Chambas, to travel to Burkina Faso as soon as possible to personally express the UN’s solidarity to the Government and people of Burkina Faso in these difficult times.
The Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, has condemned last night’s killing of three aid workers in Rann town in Borno State, in the north‑east part of the country. This followed an attack by a non‑State armed group on the military facilities next to the town. Three aid workers were also injured, and a female nurse is missing and feared to have been abducted. The United Nations is also concerned about other civilians who may have been injured or killed in the attack. Two of the deceased aid workers were contractors with the International Organization for Migration, working as coordinators in a camp in Rann that is set up to handle about 55,000 internally displaced people. The other aid worker was a medical doctor employed as a third‑party consultant with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The Secretary‑General of course also condemns this attack, and we do expect a more formal statement in his name a bit later today.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
Today we are sharing with you some of the findings of the Special Investigation on recent attacks against the UN peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Special Investigation team, led by former Assistant Secretary‑General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions, Dmitry Titov, also included military and security experts, political and logistical officers and two senior officers of the Tanzanian People’s Defence Forces. It concluded that the three attacks against UN peacekeepers were carried out using a similar modus operandi and that all available evidence points to the ADF [Allied Democratic Forces] as the perpetrators of these attacks. The team found a number of gaps in the training and posture of the UN peacekeepers and its Force Intervention Brigade. It also recommends that the Mission, Headquarters here in New York and troop‑contributing countries should actively pursue a strategy aimed at rendering the Force Intervention Brigade more robust, agile and better suited for offensive operations, especially in remote and difficult terrains. Beyond the military operations, the investigation team also underscored the importance of a reinforced engagement with regional political actors and stakeholders to better understand and tackle the threat posed by the Allied Democratic Forces. Based on the findings of the investigation team, the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Congo — in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — has updated its action plan on improving security of peacekeepers. It has also installed perimeter lighting, upgraded the communications infrastructure and enhanced the security perimeters at several of its bases. There will be a note to correspondents with more details.
Senior appointment to announce: the Secretary‑General has announced the appointment of Jessica Faieta of Ecuador as his new Deputy Special Representative for Colombia and Deputy Head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia. Ms. Faieta will succeed Tania Patriota of Brazil, to whom the Secretary‑General is grateful for her dedicated service and commitment to the peace process in Colombia. Ms. Faieta has over 25 years of distinguished service with the United Nations. Since 2014, she has been the Assistant Secretary‑General and Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the UN Development Programme (UNDP), where she was previously Deputy Regional Director. We congratulate Jessica and a full bio is available in our office.
From Geneva, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al‑Hussein, warned today that his office continues to receive reports of air strikes and shelling in eastern Ghouta. He said that satellite imagery showing the shocking scale of the destruction of towns across eastern Ghouta starkly reveals how dangerous any attempt to flee could be. He emphasized that what we are seeing, in eastern Ghouta and elsewhere in Syria, are likely war crimes, and potentially crimes against humanity. The High Commissioner said that Syria must be referred to the International Criminal Court. He also urges all States to greatly increase their support for the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism set up last year.
In a statement issued today, UNICEF said that, despite the passage of Security Council resolution 2401 (2018), violence has continued in several places across Syria, escalating in some and flaring up in others. Violence is also ongoing in Idlib, Afrin, in Deir ez‑Zor, in Damascus, in parts of Aleppo and in eastern Ghouta with reports of children killed and injured. UNICEF reiterates that Syria remains one of the most dangerous places to be a child.
Our colleagues at the Peacekeeping Mission in Mali today expressed concern following tensions between communities in the northern town of Gao. The Mission urges all to avoid any unilateral action that could exacerbate existing tensions. It reinforced its security support, as well as its good offices.
Our humanitarian colleagues in Libya tell us that heavy clashes have continued between armed groups in Sebha in southern Libya. Sebha’s main hospital was again hit in crossfire yesterday, prompting the evacuation of its paediatrics wards and relocation of maternity patients to other medical facilities. A local mosque in the residential area of Al‑Gurtha was also damaged. At least six civilians have been killed and nine more injured since the start of the hostilities in February. Current reports indicate that over 700 people (that is about 120 families) have now fled their [homes], most of whom have moved to safer locations within Sebha district. Humanitarians continue to urge all parties to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including medical facilities, in line with international humanitarian law.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said today that the arrival of migrants in Italy — which was the most active route for migrants moving from North Africa into Europe — is now at a five‑year low. The figure for the first two months of 2018 is 5,247, compared to more than 13,000 in the first two months of last year. IOM says that one of the reasons for the decrease might be the ongoing programme of voluntary humanitarian returns from migrant detention centres in Libya. Two more flights have now taken place last week to Benin, Mali and Niger. So far in 2018, 3,730 migrants were repatriated to 26 different countries.
Our colleagues at UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] in Uganda tell us the Agency is supporting the Government of Uganda with its launch of a countrywide biometric data verification to fix any discrepancy in refugee data. The massive exercise started yesterday in the Oruchinga refugee settlement in the south‑west region of Uganda, home to thousands of Congolese refugees, before being rolled out all over the country. The exercise is scheduled to be completed by [September] 2018 — including introduction of biometric checks at 180 food distribution sites. The verification exercise will ensure that refugees and asylum seekers are accurately reflected in the registration system [and] assist the Government of Uganda to enhance the accuracy of the data.
**World Wildlife Day
The Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina J. Mohammed, spoke at today’s observance of World Wildlife Day, where she warned that biodiversity is disappearing at a thousand times the natural rate. The causes are varied, she said, including habitat loss and degradation, climate change, illicit trafficking, and human‑wildlife conflict. For this year’s World Wildlife Day, the Deputy Secretary‑General noted, the spotlight falls on the world’s big cats, including species such as cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, lions, pumas, snow leopards and tigers. The Secretary‑General also has a message for the Day.
Today being Friday, we have the week ahead for you and just a heads‑up for Monday: we expect Michael Bloomberg to be here at UN Headquarters to meet with the Secretary‑General in his capacity as his Special Envoy on Climate. We expect them to have a brief press encounter on the thirty‑eighth floor around 1 p.m. and we’ll let you know details as we are able to share them. Nizar.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. One question. Does the… it has been reported that conflict or clashes emerged in eastern Ghouta between civilians and the armed groups. Four civilians were killed when they were trying to flee the… the area of conflict by the armed groups who want to prevent them, then the civilians retaliated by killing three of the armed rebels. What is the United Nations' position on people being banned from fleeing the area… the conflict area?
Spokesman: We don't have any first‑hand information. What is clear is that we're… the violence is continuing, from what the High Commissioner for Human Rights said. What is also clear is that civilians are being made to suffer and that civilians should be… people who want to flee, who want to leave, should be able to do so, and no one should face the threat of… any threat of violence for exercising their right to leave an area under which they are… in which they are suffering. What is… what is needed is a full implementation of resolution 2401 (2018) to see the 30‑day suspension of hostilities put into place so people who want to leave can leave, and just as importantly so that humanitarian aid can get in to reach some of the 400,000 people who are in need.
Correspondent: Short of a full ceasefire, even those who are critically ill or injured cannot be brought out from Ghouta.
Spokesman: What we need to see is a halt to the fighting. Once a halt… when the fighting stops, people would be able to move, and we would be able to get those who are in need of most help to leave. We've seen… we've seen yesterday, we had reports that through… there was a window of opportunity and a number of civilians were… were evacuated, so what we need to [have] is a halt to the violence. It's not complicated.
Question: Did you get any information about this massacre in Deir ez‑Zor, where 30 people were killed by an air strike?
Spokesman: Not that I have anything more than what I've already shared. Matthew.
Question: Sure, thanks. Some other things, but I wanted to ask, now that this report about the attacks on the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] have come out, I had asked Farhan I think it was February 9th whether as… as some have reported there… there was a lack of pilots with night… able to fly helicopters at night and that was, in fact, the reason that the Tanzanians could not be… be removed. I sort of… I'm reading it now that you've put it out. You've put out the note to correspondents that doesn't seem to address that at all. Was that not the case? Were there, in fact, pilots…?
Spokesman: What… what it addresses is clearly that there were failings on different… on different parts. This is exactly the kind of situation that the Secretary‑General wants to address through his so‑called “splash in peacekeeping”, which means that, you know… the responsibility for what goes on in a peacekeeping mission is a shared one. It's the Secretariat; it's troop‑contributing countries; it's countries that provide… that provide the… the financing; it's also the host countries. All these things need to be reviewed, including not only the equipment… the physical equipment, but also the mandate with which troops are… troops are deployed, so this is part… this underscores the need for action by all these stakeholders on peacekeeping.
Question: I mean, I understand the big picture. I guess I'm just wondering, on the specifics of having a mission with these… these widely spread out bases, has… has… if it's the case that there was nobody that could fly a helicopter at night to remove people, is that something that will be addressed specifically?
Spokesman: I think, as I said, the Mission is already taking under advisement ways to improve the agility of the Force Intervention Brigade.
Question: Okay. And I wanted to know if you had a readout. I wasn't aware of it, and maybe it was said here, this Haiti transformation retreat. I've seen some pictures of the Secretary‑General and the Deputy, Ms. [Josette] Sheeran. It wasn't clear to me who else attended, whether money was raised. What was that about?
Spokesman: No… bear with me two seconds. Did you have another question? Because I have the language.
Correspondent: I do, actually.
Spokesman: Go ahead.
Question: And I hope you'll answer… I want to ask you overall, I had asked you yesterday about UNEP [United Nations Environment Programme], and I've seen… seen it published its agreement with Volvo Ocean Races, and it seems as… as I asked you yesterday, it's actually not dollars; it's euros. From some 518,000 € paid by UNEP for this corporate partnership, so many people that I've spoken to think it's weird. They thought a corporate partnership is the corporation is helping the UN, not the UN helping the corporations.
Spokesman: There are… there are different kinds of partnerships. I think the point is that the leadership at UNEP has followed all the rules and regulations. If people… if people feel there is… there's anything untoward, there are all sorts of mechanisms for people to… to express… to express those sentiments, but I think the question… the detailed questions as to the partnership are questions you need to raise to UNEP.
Question: But I want… the reason… and then just… because one of the… one of the budget lines is “personal appearance by Dee Caffari”, who I had not heard of, but it turns out she's a big British sailor or yachtswoman. And I just wanted… since the public sees celebrities or… or various extraordinary individuals sometimes speaking in favour of… of the UN, if you're being paid, is there some way to know who's being paid, who's not being paid?
Spokesman: I don't… I don't know… you're jumping a couple of steps ahead. I don't know the details of the partnership. I think you need to ask UNEP. On Haiti, there was… you know, we had… there have been a meeting scheduled, which I flagged here earlier… earlier in the week. As you know, the Government of Haiti decided… took a decision not to be present at the time. As a result, there was a decision made to postpone the official Haiti transformation retreat until we can determine together a better time to come together. There was, as you saw through visual aid an informal conversation, on the 28th of February, which the… in which the Secretary‑General participated. We, of course, remain as committed as ever to partnering with the Government of Haiti in finally defeating the devastating eight‑year‑long epidemic of cholera and in writing a new chapter of opportunity and hope for that country.
Question: Just one… because I see in the photograph, Sarah… Sarah, Duchess… Duchess of York, and it seemed to be Mr. Ray Chambers. Is there a way to get a list of the people, like… it seems like it was a big meeting.
Spokesman: It's an informal meeting. I think once the official meeting takes place we'll be able to share more information. Madame.
Correspondent: Thank you, Stéphane. I had asked a question about Afrin yesterday that the civilians were being stopped at the checkpoints and that they were being prevented from leaving.
Spokesman: I'm sorry, I should have had something. Let me… it's my bad. Your colleague, please.
Question: In east Ghouta, they report… I heard a report in the morning, there was, like, chemical weapon, and the United States is going to open an investigation… request an investigation about that. Do you guys have any… UN have any information?
Spokesman: My understanding is there were reports earlier in the week a few days ago and my understanding is that the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] has opened up an investigation, but, as you know, there is no… the UN's Joint Investigative Mechanism no longer has a mandate to operate. But I do understand the OPCW has opened an investigation. Nizar.
Question: Yeah. On these raising threats between Russia, America, and also this trade conflict, is there any role the United Nations can do in order to mitigate all these bellicose…?
Spokesman: As a… as a matter of principle, the good offices of the Secretary‑General are always available with the caveat that both parties in any situation would want him or his office to… to participate. I think we are all… we all hope for and we all would like to see positive dialogue between all countries, and especially the Permanent Five.
Question: How about the imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminium? Does not the Secretary‑General feel…?
Spokesman: You know what, we try not to comment on things that have yet to happen. We've read reports that there's a plan, but as far as I know, this has not come into being so we will not comment. Mr. Lee.
Question: Sure, I wanted to ask you again about the South Sudan and the alleged sexual abuse in Wau by the Ghanaian contingent. It seems like the Government of South Sudan has now… having met with UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan], they are saying they want an independent… either a joint investigation with their participation or what they call an independent one. They're not satisfied with OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] doing an investigation, and I wanted to know how does the UN… what's its response to that?
Spokesman: We have… there are procedures in place. I think the Head of the Mission acted very quickly when he learned that there were allegations, which did not target all… all 46 from what I gather, but it was important, I think, for us to ensure that, you know, as a… as a Unit that they were repatriated together. I think it's important that it's not… and… and this is not prejudging the investigation, but as a matter of principle, it is not just those who perpetrate those crimes, but it is also those who stand silent while knowing that others are perpetrating those crimes. There's an ongoing investigation by OIOS. The government of Ghana has… has also told us they will do their own investigation, and I expect… I expect things will move quickly. The calendar for these types of investigations has been shortened. For the time… for the time being, all the police officers remain confined to base.
Question: But there's… I mean, there's a direct quote by the Under‑Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and he says, “we want an independent investigation because we don't believe an investigation conducted by one of their agencies or their employees would be fair and just.” And I wonder what's the right of a… of a host country?
Spokesman: I'm sure there's… they are… I'm sure there's a dialogue that is going on with the Mission. Obviously, South Sudan is a sovereign country. They have the right to investigate any… any crimes that may have happened in… in their country, but I would ask… I would ask people not to prejudge the outcome of the investigation.
Question: But do the peacekeepers have immunity? I guess that's my question. They might have… they have a right to do an investigation, but if they find that their citizens were, in fact, abused…
Spokesman: As… as… as you know, when it comes to uniformed personnel, they're under the jurisdiction of the flag country from which… from which they come from. We hope… and again, I don't want to prejudge anything, that if crimes have been committed or if misconduct may have been committed that those people face the justice that is… that is relevant. Okay.
Question: In Afrin, of course, the Turkish forces continue their push inside Syria. Is this in violation of 2401 resolution?
Spokesman: If I'm not mistaken, the resolution 2401 (2018) is focused on the situation in east Ghouta. That is not… that does not mean… and I may be struck down for being wrong, but that does not mean we do not want to see a halt to the fighting everywhere in Syria.
Question: I thought 2401 (2018) includes all… all Syria?
Spokesman: We would like… we would like to see the fighting stop all… all over the Syria. Yes, sir.
Question: Russian Ambassador in the last Security Council meeting asked to send UN investigators to Syria for assessing coalitions’ performance. What's your position about that?
Spokesman: To assist the coalitions’…?
Correspondent: Performance in Syria.
Spokesman: Performance in terms of?
Correspondent: Especially in Raqqa.
Spokesman: Let me… in Raqqa. Let me get back to you on that. Okay. One more, go ahead.
Question: I wanted to ask you two reform questions very quickly. One is something… I've been hearing a lot talk about this “global service delivery model” and some people it seems if… unless I have it wrong, that there's going to be an outsourcing or offshoring of human resources and payroll jobs, and from what I've heard they're mostly general service jobs, basically a straight elimination of some 90 posts. But what I wanted to know is people don't know where it's going. One, can the general service staff, if they choose to, follow the jobs? And is it true that Brazil is one of the candidates? There's just a lot of… it's supposedly by March 15th they have to present…
Spokesman: Let me… I will try to get an update for you. Olga.
Correspondent: Thanks, Stéph. Just to clarify my colleague's question about Raqqa. It was Russia's request to send monitors to monitor the humanitarian situation in Raqqa after the coalition.
Spokesman: I will check with our humanitarian colleagues.
Question: Yeah, and my question is as yesterday, Netherland's Ambassador told us there's going to be the Security Council meeting on March 12th on the implementation of 2401 (2018) and in the resolution, there is a paragraph — the Secretary‑General should report on the implementation of this document in 15 days after the adoption — so will he brief…?
Spokesman: I don't know if he will… he will report… the Secretary‑General will report as requested. Whether it is him in person or someone in his name, we'll know a bit later.
Correspondent: So the report will be ready by March 12th or before and…
Spokesman: It will be ready within 15 days of the adoption of the resolution. We usually follow orders. Okay, thank you.
Question: I just wanted to ask you about the staff survey. Do you have a comment on that, on the staff assessment?
Spokesman: Sure, sure.
Question: I guess my question is… just because a number of questions today you've answered by saying that there's mechanisms in place for people to report, and so it's all… it seems like the… the… the UN surveyed its own staff. Thirty‑nine per cent responded and one third of them say that there's a lack of performance and ethical accountability, and that they are afraid to report misconduct due to fear of retaliation. That seems like a lot of people.
Spokesman: I think, first of all, we will have — we're trying to have on Monday a senior briefer from the Department of Management or OHRM [Office of Human Resources Management] to come and… and brief you on… on the survey. I think… and you'll get more details, but 72 per cent of staff responded favourably to questions of engagement, 70 per cent of staff responded favourably to questions of areas of… of alignment. I think there were very positive answers also in terms of the… the alignment of the… their… the ideals with their work. I think 79 per cent of staff indicated they would know what to do and who to approach if they saw unethical behaviour or wrongdoing. There's always going to be positive and negative things in the staff of any organization, no matter how small or how large. I think it's important for us to be able to understand where… what the staff is… is thinking. I think it helps… it will help… it will help the Secretary‑General in the reform process. Also, engaging staff in pushing staff towards the change that this Organization needs. Identify the gaps on issues of ethics. I think the Secretary‑General has been… as you know, [he] upgraded the whistle‑blower policy very quickly after arriving and updated it again. We have made a big push in ensuring that staff know what to do in the cases of sexual harassment, where to call. All sorts of information were shared. The hotline was set up. The OIOS has been upgrading its ability to investigate issues of harassment. So, as I said, you'll have… you'll have a bigger briefing, but I think there's more… it's a much… it's… the survey is there to show where the staff is. I think what was leaked was selectively leaked and it gave a much more negative picture of what the survey actually said.
Correspondent: I mean, the whole report has been leaked.
Spokesman: Okay. Thank you.