The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. The Secretary-General just spoke earlier today at the ongoing Security Council meeting on upholding the UN Charter. He told members of the Council that, unfortunately, the New Year has begun with fresh turmoil and long-standing suffering. Geopolitical tensions have reached dangerous levels, most recently in the Gulf, as well as from traditional military threats to the economy, to cyberspace. He added that conflicts that no one is winning grind on and on, from Libya to Syria to Afghanistan and the Sahel.
The Secretary-General asserted that in a time of rapid transformation and technological change, the UN Charter’s values and objectives endure: the peaceful settlement of disputes; and equal rights of men and women; non-intervention, self-determination and the sovereign equality of Member States; and clear rules governing the use of force, as set out in Article 2, paragraph 4, and Chapter VII of the Charter.
He reminded the members of the Council that war is never inevitable; it is a matter of choice – and often the product of easy miscalculations. And he added that peace, too, is never inevitable; it is the product of hard work and we must never take it for granted. His full remarks are online.
Turning to Libya, Ghassan Salamé, the Special Representative and Head of the UN Mission there, welcomed the recent calls for a ceasefire in Libya by a number of countries and international and regional organizations, the most recent of which was the joint call yesterday by the Presidents of Turkey and the Russian Federation.
Mr. Salamé urged international and Libyan parties to respond positively to these calls and cease all military operations across Libya immediately - to spare the country from further bloodshed and provide relief to its people who are suffering the woes of this war.
The Special Representative encourages the international community, especially countries concerned with the Libyan crisis, to seize the current momentum and push the Berlin Process forward in order to reach the international consensus.
[Je vous entends, hein ? C’est pas grave.]
Turning to Syria, our humanitarian colleagues remain deeply concerned about the safety and protection of over 3 million civilians in the area around Idlib, and over half of whom are internally displaced, following ongoing reports of air strikes and artillery shelling.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has recorded a total of 1,460 civilians who have been killed between 29 April of last year through 5 January of this year, due to military hostilities in the north-west of Syria. Of those killed, 417 were children and 289 were women.
More than 312,000 people have been displaced since 2 December, mainly from southern Idlib, moving north, away from the hostilities.
Most of the recently displaced people moved to urban areas and camps for internally displaced people in north-western Idlib, although tens of thousands have reportedly also moved from Afrin to A’zaz in northern Aleppo Governorate in search of safety and access to services. About 80 per cent of the newly displaced are women and children.
We again urge all parties, and those with influence over those parties, to ensure the protection of civilians, and to allow sustained, unhindered access by all humanitarian parties to provide life-saving assistance to all who need it.
Turning to Mali, our colleagues at the UN peacekeeping Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) reports that this morning, several mortars and/or rockets were fired at its camp in Tessalit, in the Kidal region. The UN Mission shares the camp with Malian and international forces.
Initial reports indicate that 18 UN peacekeepers from Chad were wounded, including six who have suffered [serious] injuries.
We, of course, wish them a recovery and a speedy one.
The Mission immediately organized medical evacuations and security reinforcements. We strongly condemn the attack that took place on the camp.
And on Nigeria, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the UN and our partners are working with community organizations to help families affected by recent armed attacks targeting communities in the Michika and Madagali Local Government Areas in Adamawa Sawa State.
While most civilians who had fled to the mountainside in Adamawa and to neighbouring Borno State following the attacks on 2 January have returned to their homes, hundreds of people could possibly still be displaced.
As a reminder, the Humanitarian Response Plan for Nigeria for 2019 requested $848 million to help 6.2 million people and was 66 per cent funded. In 2020, we are asking for $789 million to assist 5.7 million people.
And from Sudan, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), David Beasley, and the Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, visited Kauda in South Kordofan today.
This marks a new milestone in the gradual expansion of humanitarian access in contested areas of Sudan.
Mr. Beasley had used his good offices to facilitate the first visit of Sudanese officials to non-governmental-controlled areas in South Kordofan in more than nine years.
Today’s visit comes on the heels of Mr. Beasley’s missions to Kauda and Yabus in Blue Nile state, signalling access of aid workers to conflict-torn areas which had been cut off from humanitarian assistance since 2011. This follows commitments made by the Sudanese Government to allow unfettered humanitarian access.
In the Philippines, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) are continuing to help the Government vaccinate nearly half a million children under 10 in remote islands against polio.
And regarding China, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today that Chinese authorities have preliminarily determined that there is a new coronavirus, which was identified in a person with pneumonia in a hospital in Wuhan, in China.
Following tests, the authorities have ruled out SARS, and MERS, as well as influenza and avian flu and other common respiratory pathogens.
WHO is continuing to closely monitor the situation and, together with its partners, is ready to provide technical support to China to investigate this outbreak and respond.
And WHO does not recommend any specific measures for travellers and advises against any travel or trade restrictions on China based on the information currently available.
**World Food Prices
Lastly, the food price index from our colleagues at FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) said that food prices around the world are at their highest levels in five years.
According to FAO, which tracks monthly changes in the international prices of food commodities - in December, prices rose for the third consecutive month.
Vegetable oil, sugar, dairy and cereals are among the commodities that are driving world food prices up.
**Questions and Answers
Mr. Bays, welcome back.
Question: Yes. I’ve got two questions. The first one is on the Security Council meeting on the UN Charter. The Secretary‑General made a strong defence of the Charter, about the ongoing importance of the Charter. Are those words not somewhat undermined if he’s not prepared to say whether he thinks the Charter has been breached either by the US or Iran in recent days?
Spokesman: No, I think we are heartened to see the interests of so many Member States in this debate represented at a high level, which I think underscores everyone’s interests in preserving the Charter. Member States have all signed on to the Charter, to treaty obligations in the Charter. For the Secretary‑General, he wishes that all Member States respect the Charter.
Question: Yeah, but he’s not saying whether it’s been breached or not. What… if he just… [cross talk]
Spokesman: I think you’ve had recently two countries, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the US, write letters to the Secretary‑General to be asked [to be] distributed to the Charter in which they explain their recent actions. And, obviously, those letters are also addressed to members of the Security Council.
Question: My second question is on the Syria cross‑border resolution. As you know that the time is ticking for all of that to expire very, very soon. Can you just remind us of the OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) and Secretary‑General’s position on this? What does the UN want? How many border cross points? Just explain what you would like the Security Council to do in the coming hours.
Spokesman: Well, we very much hope that members of the Security Council will come together and agree on some type of resolution which will allow us to continue cross‑border delivery of humanitarian aid. The situation in the north‑west and the north‑east of Syria is critical. Every day we talk about the increased humanitarian suffering. It would be that much worse if we would not have access to them through cross‑border operations.
Question: And how many checkpoints is it you need, just to…
Spokesman: I’m not going to go into the details at this point. What is important for us is that a formula which enables us to continue cross‑border operations is found and as you know, the current mandate ends tomorrow. Yeah?
Question: Thank you, Steph. An update on that question on Syria. The mandate for cross‑border assistance mechanism is expiring tomorrow, and do you have any contingency plan for that?
And, also, can you tell us when the work of the Board of Inquiry will be completed and if the SG has decided whether to make the results public or not?
Spokesman: I don’t have an update for you on your last point, on the Board of Inquiry.
We’re always making contingency plans. Right? But at some… the loss of the cross‑border will make it that much more difficult for the UN, for all… and for our humanitarian partners to reach millions of Syrians who need access to life‑saving aid.
Question: And another question on Kashmir, as far as I know, 15 diplomats from various countries are visiting Kashmir today, and I was wondering if there was anyone from the UN among those diplomats…? [cross talk]
Spokesman: I’m not aware… it’s a very good question. I’m not aware that we have anyone on that trip, but I will check. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you, Steph. You mentioned that… happy New Year. You mentioned that both the US and Iran are sending letters to the Secretary‑General, and I wonder whether the SG has any plan to use his good offices, beside calling for restraint and reducing the tension, whether he’s going to mediate between the two countries.
Spokesman: The question of mediation or good offices is one that is, in principle, always open. As in any situation, it requires two or three or all parties involved to ask the Secretary‑General to do so.
That being said, the Secretary‑General has been spending quite some time on the phone with various leaders from many countries in the region and beyond, trying to calm tensions and passing on the message which he delivered to you publicly on Monday.
Question: [inaudible] President [Donald] Trump or President [Hassan] Rouhani…
Spokesman: He has been speaking… he had spoken at the foreign minister level and also through… various senior officials have also spoken to people at the Permanent Missions here.
Question: And just excuse me if I missed anything from the previous days. Did you describe the…
Spokesman: Transcript is always available. [laughter]
Question: Do you have any description to the Iranian attacks on those two military bases in Iraq?
Spokesman: I think we covered all that. I don’t want to rehash what’s already been said. I said it very clearly the first time. It’s hard for me to say it clearly a second time. Yes, Ibtisam?
Question: Stéphane, I have two questions, the first regarding… a follow‑up regarding Iran. So both the US and Iran quoted Article 51, that they did their attacks under Article 51, and you still didn’t say actually what is the position of the Secretary‑General regarding their claims, that you got the letters; you got… but you must have some… [cross talk]
Spokesman: The letters the Secretary‑General was asked to circulate… is asked to circulate letters. Letters will be circulated, and I think Article 51 in the Charter is pretty clear.
Question: No, but does he… I mean, he has his lawyers, and does he agree to their claims, either… both sides?
Spokesman: I think I’ve said enough on that. Yes…? [cross talk]
Question: Okay. I have a follow‑up. Sorry. I have a follow‑up…
Spokesman: Sorry. And I was just handed a note saying the Board of Inquiry on Syria continues its work until the end of January.
Question: So, on the cross‑border resolution, it looks like… or maybe there will be a technical rollover. What… if that happens, in order to give the Security Council members more time to consult, if that happened, what does that mean for you? And do you have another, maybe more extensive or more cost-intensive, possibility to deliver aid to that area?
Spokesman: To put it very simply, there is no alternative to reaching the people we need to reach in the north‑west and north‑east without the cross‑border.
Spokesman: A technical rollover would allow us to continue our work. Yes, sir?
Question: In the last hour or so, there’s some reports that anonymous US officials are saying they’re confident that the passenger plane which was downed in Tehran days ago was shot down by missiles, anti‑aircraft missiles. And the head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Authority said that he would not be willing to give the black box to Boeing or the Americans. What role could the UN play if it were to receive a black box from that flight? Is there any precedent in the past for the UN coming up with analyses based on black boxes…?
Spokesman: The way civil aviation incidents are investigated is laid out, I think, in the Chicago Convention, which is under the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). So, I would encourage you to reach out to ICAO.
In general, the UN Civil Aviation Organization does not have a role in investigations unless it is requested to by a civil aviation authority. But the… I would refer you to the ICAO. We can put you in touch with them. There… the procedures for investigating air incidents is fairly clear and laid out, and we, of course, hope that it will be followed.
Question: So, you don’t see necessarily a role for the UN to play in determining whether… [cross talk]
Spokesman: I think we’re jumping a lot of steps and speculating on something. What I’m saying is there’s a procedure involved through the Chicago Convention. It is done under the Civil Aviation [Organization]. My understanding from my colleagues at Civil Aviation [Organization] is that, you know, there is a list of steps. We can share those with you, but it… in no way does it involve the Secretary‑General or the Secretariat. Yep?
Question: Good afternoon. Thank you, Stéphane. I’d like to go into the West Africa and Sahel situation, and why is the Secretary‑General not making this a priority? It seems, since the beginning of the year, it’s been Iran, what’s going on in the Gulf. And the top UN official was here yesterday from West Africa and the Sahel, Mohamed [ibn] Chambas. And he said, “This is unprecedented terrorist violence in the West Africa and Sahel.”
And this week, 12 children were killed in a roadside bombing in Burkina Faso. And, as you mentioned, in Mali, 18 UN peacekeepers were wounded.
Is it time for the UN, specifically MINUSMA, to change its strategy in 2020? And is the Secretary‑General going to make West Africa and the Sahel a priority soon?
Spokesman: You know, I think it is very much a priority. He has been speaking about it almost from the beginning of his mandate. I mean, I… one of the first trips I took with him in… what year are we in?
Spokesman: Yeah. In 2017, we went to Nairobi, and I remember him making a big push for the G5 Sahel force to receive predictable funding. That has not happened. And we know that the lack of predictable funding and support to those forces has had a negative impact on their ability to do their work.
MINUSMA has a very specific mandate that operates only in Mali. It is not a counter‑insurgency anti‑terrorist force. It is a peacekeeping mission. There are international forces in Mali. There are international forces in other parts of the Sahel. The national forces are very much involved.
The UN Mission is taking a huge amount of casualties in that fight. And, of course, the people who are paying the highest price are civilians from Burkina Faso to Mali to Niger. We’ve seen it all over the region.
I think Mr. Chambas, who represents the Secretary‑General, was extremely eloquent and powerful in speaking about the challenges of the Sahel. So, yes, it is very much and will remain a priority of the Secretary‑General.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. [inaudible name] from [inaudible]. My question is related to the bushfire in Australia. The Australian Government itself is trying its best to control the bushfire, but the bushfire is still out of control and the international community has not been able to extend all necessary help. So, my question is, can the UN coordinate all the international cooperation in regard to controlling the bushfire? Thank you.
Spokesman: Look, a couple of things to unpack. One is that we, of course, have been in touch with the Australian authorities. We’ve extended our condolences to the loss of life. We’ve expressed our solidarity. The UN is always, as a matter of principle anywhere, always ready to help.
There’s been a great outpouring of international assistance to Australia, which is, I think, a very good sign. There is absolutely no indication that, A, Australia has asked for UN’s help in coordinating or that, B, Australia’s not… doesn’t have the capacity to do that itself, which it clearly has.
Iftikhar, and then we’ll go back to round two.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Will somebody from UN sign the condolence book open for General [Qasem] Soleimani at the Iranian Mission?
Spokesman: I’m not aware that that will happen.
Question: And, secondly, but a follow‑up to the investigation into Ukrainian airliner crash, I did see reports that ICAO has announced that it will be involved in the investigation.
Spokesman: I would refer you to ICAO. There… they have a very good press office. They’ll be able to answer you. Their expectation is that a full investigation, along the lines of their annex, one of their annexes, I think annex 13, will take place. But, I mean, it’s… sadly, there is… you know, we see air incidents often. These things are very… the procedure how to investigate these things, cooperation between various civil aviation authorities has been clearly laid out and adjudicated.
Question: Yes. You read out a statement on Libya at the beginning of the briefing. Is there any update on what Special Representative Salamé has been calling for, which is this proposed international conference in Berlin? And does the Special Representative and the Secretary‑General believe it’s better that this happens sooner rather than later, because the situation is getting… [cross talk]
Spokesman: We do believe that… we very much hope that it will take place in January. I think Mr. Salamé spoke very eloquently on Monday or Tuesday about the whole process. Obviously, every day, we continue to see humanitarian suffering. We continue to see the suffering of the Libyan people. Stefano?
Question: Yes, it’s a follow‑up on Salamé and Libya. It’s true that he spoke very eloquently here at the UN when he talked to us journalists, and he… he had several accusations toward the Security Council. But then ambassador… Russian ambassador, when he came out, that we asked specifically, he told us that he didn’t hear those accusation from Salamé during the closed‑door meeting that they had.
So, my question is, is Salamé and, in this case, the Secretary‑General really what they tell publicly an accusation they have of what is not done in Libya - do they do this with the Security Council and, especially, the members that Salamé accuse do not respect the arms embargo that they voted?
Spokesman: I have no reason… first of all, I would say I have no comment on what the Russian Permanent Representative said. It’s not for me to comment on what he said.
As far as Mr. Salamé and the Secretary‑General, I know they have been very direct and very frank with Security Council members on how they see the situation.
In the back.
Question: Hi, thanks. Sorry if this was already determined, but did we figure out when exactly tomorrow [resolution] 2165 expires?
Spokesman: Look, for us, if there is no resolution, the working day tomorrow will be the last working day. Right? I mean, things don’t happen… humanitarian convoys don’t happen at night. Right? So, once daylight ends, once the working day ends in Turkey and in Syria, that will be the end of the operations for us.
That’s… you know, the legality and when exactly Council members expect the end of the resolution, that’s another thing, but in terms of how we actually will do our work, if there is… tomorrow will be the last working day.
Question: Follow‑up on Syria. The Syrian representative, Mr. [Bashar al] Jaafari, last week, had a press conference at the UN. And he talked about the cross‑border resolution, and he claimed that the UN did not abide by what it was supposed to do and to inform the Syrians regarding where and how they are doing the delivery. What’s your comment on that?
Spokesman: I have no reason to believe that we are not… that our colleagues are not abiding by the resolution.
Question: And a follow‑up on Libya. Sorry. So, the experts… the report of the experts on Libya and the embargo was represented to the Security Council last month. To your knowledge…
Spokesman: Which one?
Question: The expert report on Libya… [cross talk]
Spokesman: For which country? Libya?
Question: Yes. Do you… so, it was sent to the Security Council, but it was not… at least not in an open debate discussed yet. Do you know if… or to your knowledge, if there is… it’s going to be discussed this month and… [cross talk]
Spokesman: I… short answer is I don’t know. You should ask the presidency. Ali and then James.
Question: Gambia just inaugurated consulate in Western Sahara. Three weeks ago, also, Comoros opened a consulate. Do you have a comment…?
Spokesman: No, let me try… I don’t have any comment with me, but I’ll see if I can get some guidance.
Question: But on the same issue, is there a new envoy that’s going to be appointed by the Secretary‑General?
Spokesman: You know the procedure. Until we announce something — and I light the white smoke — nothing is official.
Question: Sorry. It’s just a question about the Security Council’s work. It probably should go to the presidency but also to you, because it’s the UN Secretariat that’s limiting their hours of work because of the money.
Spokesman: And your hours of work.
Question: Yeah… but…
Spokesman: By extent.
Question: Well, the point being that, given that you have a very limited time before the Syria cross border, it does affect the ability of them to do this work. And you have, I believe, 111 speakers today. Are they sticking to the…
Spokesman: No, my understanding is that they will end around 6 o’clock and that they will resume tomorrow with the open debate for the speakers they haven’t been able to hear today.
It is clear that the Secretariat will not stand in the way of any Security Council meeting, emergency meeting needed to discuss or vote on a cross‑border resolution. That is clear.
Question: Since no one has asked, I have to ask, I guess, like, any update on the escalators? They’re still not working? [laughter]
Spokesman: I think I said earlier this week, I am lobbying on behalf of all escalators everywhere to be liberated.
Question: Well, it’s the New Year 2020…
Spokesman: And I know it’s a new year. We’re… my controller friend is counting the pennies, and he has assured me that we will try to turn them on as soon as possible, and I will definitely try to organize some sort of inaugural ceremony. [laughter] And, maybe, Betul, you can turn the key.
All right. Thank you.