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The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General will be in Geneva this Monday, where he will speak at the opening session of the Human Rights Council. This will be his first address to the Human Rights Council since taking office. While in Geneva, he will also visit the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross, where he will meet its President, Peter Maurer.
We expect the Secretary-General to be back in New York on Monday evening.
As you will have seen, the Syria talks are getting under way in Geneva. There are a number of public events, which I think we will be able to follow on the webcast as much as possible.
Our understanding is that Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura will welcome those who have accepted his invitation at about, well, just about now really, it’s under way. And we also understand there will also be a press encounter afterwards, so we can just keep an eye on the webcast.
**Central African Republic
The Acting Humanitarian Coordinator in the Central African Republic, Aboubacry Tall, yesterday called on parties to the conflict in the Ouaka and Haute-Kotto provinces to respect international humanitarian law. He also urged them to honour their commitment to protect civilians and to fulfil their human rights obligations.
In Bambari, the capital of Ouaka Province, currently has 45,000 displaced persons out of a population of 160,000. Since the end of November 2016, about 20,000 new internally displaced persons have been registered.
The affiliation of armed individuals to some communities has caused stigmatization, impacting negatively on their freedom of movement. Mr. Tall said it is unacceptable for civilians to pay the price for rivalries between armed groups because of their religious beliefs or political affiliation. He also urged armed groups not to obstruct the free movement of civilians and humanitarian actors.
The Head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), David Shearer, today stressed the need to improve security to reinvigorate what has been called the bread basket of South Sudan. He was making his first field trip to the town of Yambio in the Western Equatoria region, an agricultural region which has typically provided a wide range of food products for the rest of the country.
Production has slowed because farmers are no longer able to plant crops due to ongoing the insecurity and displacement. Mr. Shearer said that security was also essential on the road network to allow trade and the distribution of agricultural products.
Our colleagues with UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) have opened a new settlement area in northern Uganda to house thousands of refugees arriving from South Sudan.
The new Imvepi settlement was opened after another settlement opened in December 2016 and quickly reached its capacity. The new settlement is expected to be able to accommodate up to 110,000 new arrivals in the weeks and months ahead.
South Sudan is now Africa’s largest refugee crisis and the world’s third largest behind Syria and Afghanistan.
Our colleagues at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) today launched a global campaign on a key source of ocean litter, and that is plastic.
More than 8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped into the world’s oceans a year — equal to unloading a garbage truck of plastic every minute.
The new campaign, called #CleanSeas, urges Governments to pass plastic reduction policies, calls on industry to minimize plastic packaging and redesign products, and appeals to consumers to change their throwaway habits before irreversible damage is done to our seas.
And a senior personnel appointment to announce today: The Secretary-General is announcing the appointment of Major Genenral Tesfay Gidey Hailemichael of Ethiopia as Force Commander for the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei, known as UNISFA.
Mr. Hailemichael succeeds General Ebrahim Mussa, who completed his assignment on 17 January. The Secretary-General is grateful to General Mussa for his dedication and effective leadership of the mission as Head of the military component.
And we thank today Sri Lanka, who paid up yesterday its regular budget due in full, and two more today — Belgium and Uzbekistan — bringing up the Honour Roll to?
Spokesman: 46 but… Okay. Matthew. Oh, sorry.
**Questions and Answers
Question: I wanted to ask you, yesterday, after the consultations in the Council about MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara), I asked the President of the Council if Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous had provided a number of the staff that had yet… had been ousted that had yet to be returned. And he said, yes, a number had been provided. He didn’t say that he could remember the number, but I’m assuming that you can remember the number. How many are still out?
Spokesman: Well, I don’t have to remember it because I have it written down in front of me, which is very good. I can tell… I know there have been a lot… a number of questions about the level of the mission in Western Sahara. We’re obviously continuing our efforts to restore full functionality to the UN Mission, to MINURSO. At this time, there remains 17 staff who have been unable to rejoin the mission after requested… being requested to depart by Morocco, and efforts continue to enable their return. The Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and MINURSO remain in close touch with staff members concerned in order to keep them informed of the current situation.
Question: One follow‑up. I’ve heard that some… some of the… some of these people have been assigned to other missions. Is that the case? And, if so, does it rec… does it kind of acknowledge that 17…
Spokesman: I’m not aware of those people having been reassigned to another mission. Fathi? Your colleague is yielding his time to you. So go ahead. Go ahead.
Question: So is it… is the problem in relation with recruitments or what is it? And does the Secretary‑General agree that the full functionality is still to be restored? Is that what you’re saying?
Spokesman: Well, what I’m saying is that we’re continuing our efforts to restore full functionality, which I think speaks for itself, and I would not characterize it as an issue of recruitment. Fathi?
Question: Is the Secretary‑General considering at any point taking part of the ongoing meeting regarding Syria in Geneva?
Spokesman: No, the Geneva visit is pegged to the high… to the Human Rights Council, and that is the focus of the visit. Mr. Avni?
Question: There’s a dispute between the US and Mexico over whether the US can deport non‑Mexicans into… south of its border. And a lot of people in Mexico are calling for the UN to ar… to be the arbitra…
Question: … to do the arbitration. Is it… does the UN have any standing? Do you know which part of the UN might be… get involved and that kind stuff?
Spokesman: Well, as far as I’m aware, we have not received any communications from Mexican authorities, so I don’t want to speculate as to where there… that request will go to if it, in fact, it comes.
Question: But is there any arm of the UN that might get involved in a dispute… in a border dispute like that?
Spokesman: Again, I think one would depend to see what the actual request is. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you. You know, Stéphane, the Secretary‑General nominated Salam Fayyad for the post of the Special Envoy to Libya. It was blocked by the US. Did he withdraw his candidacy for good, or is he still considering him? And if he withdrew that candidacy of Salam Fayyad, is he considering somebody else?
Spokesman: The discussions are still… I mean, the consideration for who will next lead the mission is ongoing.
Question: But Salam Fayyad is not included in that…?
Spokesman: Again, I’m saying the discussions are still going on. Yes, Evelyn?
Question: Thank you, Steph. There are… is… is the Government or militia in South Sudan deliberately denying food aid to the places where starvation is the greatest?
Spokesman: I think it is clear that the humanitarian crisis that the people of South Sudan are facing is basically man‑made due to the ongoing conflict that has been going on for… almost since the country came into its own. The issue of unfettered, unimpeded humanitarian access has been one that has been extremely challenging since the beginning. We have seen various sides in the conflict at one time or another block humanitarian access, and it is clear that it is the responsibility of the Government to ensure that we have humanitarian access and people get the food they need, wherever they need it. Yep. Sorry, did you have a follow‑up?
Question: Can I just follow… yeah. I think it was David Shearer who was quoted saying the Government was blocking aid, delaying paperwork, preventing agencies from distributing it, and not letting it through the checkpoints. Is that still going on or is it [inaudible]…
Spokesman: The issue of humanitarian access is one that is clearly not solved. Yeah?
Question: Thank you. Back to Syria, I was wondering if the Secretary‑General has a message to the parties in Geneva as the talks are under way now? Thanks.
Spokesman: Mr. de Mistura is representing the Secretary‑General in the talks. I think he’s delivering the Secretary‑General’s message. The Secretary‑General wants to see a political solution and an end to the fighting and so that the dramatic humanitarian situation and suffering of the Syrian people, both inside and outside of Syria, can be alleviated. Yep?
Question: On Syria, too, de Mistura said about three weeks ago that he would like to see the… all the opposition under one umbrella, but today there was some press reports that they wanted to include Moscow and Cairo factions. Is that correct? And why is this change in the plans?
Spokesman: I would… you know, the talks are ongoing right now. Mr. de Mistura, I think, is speaking right now. So I would wait for… I don’t want to speak or say anything about the talks while things are ongoing, while Mr. de Mistura is speaking.
Question: But can you confirm that he is… that he wants to…
Spokesman: No, I would refer you… those questions about the talks should be directed to him or to his spokespeople.
Question: Yeah, but he…
Spokesman: No, I understand what you’re trying to do, but I will defer all these questions to the team in Geneva. Rosiland?
Question: In wake of… in wake of yesterday’s appeal for preventing famine, have any countries stepped forward with promises to help make up the 5.6 billion that was requested?
Spokesman: Not… not that I’m aware. Mr. [Stephen] O’Brien has also gone to Norway to attend a donors’ conference and appeal… to launch an appeal that is focused on the Lake Chad Basin in Nigeria. So we’re waiting to hear from that. We will keep you updated when and hopefully when the monies and the promises come in. Yes, Masood?
Question: Yes. Stéphane, on this famine threat underscored by the Secretary‑General and the agencies’ heads yesterday, given that situation that exists now in United States where the Trump Administration is now totally denying that there is such a thing as climate change and that that is evident from the appointment of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) chief who… Scott Pruitt, who is totally anti — what do you call? — climate change. So what is the Secretary‑General, when he talks to the Trump Administration or Mr. [Donald] Trump, given the choice, will tell him that this is what is wrong? Would he be able to tell him that?
Spokesman: Well, the Secretary‑General will tell anyone he meets with what he firmly believes on the importance of dealing with climate change and the… and mitigating the impact of climate change. For us, the science is clear. And whether it’s the US, China, India, the European Union, all the world’s leading economies have a critical role to play, and we hope that every country lives up to the commitments that was… that were made in Paris.
Question: Yes, but the Trump Administration is probably threatening to withdraw…
Spokesman: No, I know what has been reported, leaked or threatened. I think we will react to things as they happen. Yes, Ifthikar?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I know the Secretary‑General unveiled its proposal for a new separate office of… for counter‑terrorism only yesterday. But what is his expectation? When does he hope that this office will go… would be off and running? And what additional elements it would have which the already Executive Director does not have?
Spokesman: Well, I think I would refer you to his presentation yesterday, which I think lays out his vision fairly clearly. I think we were pleased by the support we received from Member States in the discussions. And we hope to get this under way as soon as practicable. Yep?
Question: Can we expect a statement from the Secretary‑General on the string of attacks taking place in Lahore and elsewhere in Pakistan, deadly terrorist attacks?
Spokesman: We, obviously, condemn all these horrendous attacks that appear to have deliberately targeted civilians. I think we all send our condolences to the families of the bereaved and to the people and Government of Pakistan. Yep?
Question: Thank you. Thank you, Stéphane. On DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], it has been reported Kim Jong Nam, the half‑brother of the leader of the DPRK, Kim Jong‑un, was killed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. And there is the problematic disputes between Malaysia and DPRK on how to deal with the bodies. Any comments on it?
Spokesman: No, I mean we’re… we have no more information on this incident than what is being reported in the press. Ali?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On Syria, obviously, some major differences emerged recently between Mr. de Mistura and Mr. [Sergey] Lavrov, who represents one of the main guarantors of these talks. Is there a risk that the talks will fall apart because of these differences, or what’s the… what do you… where does the UN stand in this regard? Can you clarify the situation?
Spokesman: The UN’s stance in putting all its efforts on the posit… on having positive momentum out of the Geneva talks. I know there’s been… we’ve seen the criticism from various quarters. We hope that all the parties directly involved or the regional Powers, the global Powers, are there to support the Geneva process, and our understanding is that they are. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I want to ask a follow‑up about yesterday’s appeal and then some questions that I’d asked you about yesterday in writing. One is, although Nigeria’s one of the four countries listed and you said Mr. O’Brien is going to this Oslo conference, this morning, I asked the IMF [International Monetary Fund] if… about their discussions with Nigeria. They say that Nigeria’s not seeking any type of IMF programme. And in fact, the Finance Minister there, Kemi Adeosun, is quoted as saying that their… their, quote, non‑oil revenue profile is rising; they don’t need help. So what’s… can you square the circle here? How can it be that the country itself is saying its economy is fine and it’s being said from here that there’s both… there’s, you know, drought, near famine and a fundraising drive in Oslo…? [Cross talk]
Spokesman: I think it’s two separate things. First of all, the appeal in Oslo is not just for Nigeria. It’s for the whole Lake Chad Basin area. The fact remains that there are people in desperate need of help because of drought, because of conflict in parts of Nigeria, north-east Nigeria. We’re, obviously, working with the Government, but we would also hope the international community supports our efforts.
Question: But would you call on the Government to, in fact, do more? If you see the statement by the Finance Minister…
Spokesman: I haven’t seen the statement. I can look at the statement.
Question: All right. I wanted to ask you about Burundi. I wanted to ask a couple of things. One is, one, if you can give a status of what you understand took place at the talks in Arusha. Also, if you have anything more on the threats that were made by… by the Burundian side that people should be arrested who attended them. And, finally, if you’ve received and have a response to the letter from Albert Shingiro asking that the Special Adviser, at least as to Burundi, be replaced.
Spokesman: We’ve seen… obviously, we’ve seen… we’ve received the letter. We’re taking a look at it, and obviously, Mr. [Jamal] Benomar continues in his role with the support of the Secretary‑General.
Question: And what happened at the talks, given…
Spokesman: I don’t have an update up for you. I’ll see if I can get something.
Question: And… and, on the threats, the idea that the Government of Burundi, that some people should be arrested doesn’t undermine…
Spokesman: I haven’t seen those threats… I haven’t seen the reports, but it’s obviously clear that we support a political dialogue. Yeah?
Question: Last week, the US Ambassador to the UN, after the briefing on Palestine‑Israel, she said, answering a question, that she doesn’t find it necessary to have these monthly briefings or the quarter… I mean the briefings every three months. So what’s your comment on this when member, ambassador, says that actually the work of your envoy is not necessary somehow or to brief…
Spokesman: I don’t… I wouldn’t… I didn’t interpret her comments in that way and as a critique of the work of the envoy. Obviously, the Security Council is the master of its domain. They can decide when and where to request briefings and by whom from the Secretariat. We remain at their service in order to fulfil whatever their requests are. So, if the Council is currently requesting monthly briefings, we will supply those. If there’s a decision of the Council to change something, then we will follow that. But it is the decision of the Security Council and its members. Yeah?
Question: I wanted to ask you, I guess these are two things about kind of UN procurement and peacekeeping. In this room, I guess two days ago now, Mr. [Lamberto] Zannier said that OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] is going to start… or is already working with DFS [Department of Field Support] Brindisi to do procurement. Is that… is that true? And how does it work? And also, there’s a story that the Germans’ contingent in Mali is going to bring in these very high‑tech aerial surveillance things that the US has used in Afghanistan. And I wanted know, does this information get shared throughout the mission when a contingent brings it in by itself?
Spokesman: I’m not… From what I read and what I understood of the press report, I don’t think this was something that may or may not happen. So I can check if it has happened.
Question: Right, but as a matter of principle, if a contingent brings in its own high‑tech surveillance to protect its peacekeepers, will they share it with…
Spokesman: Well, as a… I don’t want to speculate, but, obviously, anybody operates within a peacekeeping operation, they operate for the greater good of the peacekeeping mission.
Question: But here’s the… okay. Then another specific. In Mali, the Dutch contingent is said to have the type of equipment that they have in UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon], which is that it can find IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and blow them up. Is this shared with the Chadians or not shared with the Chadians?
Spokesman: I don’t know. I think that’s a question you can ask of our colleagues in Bamako.
Question: And do you have anything on the Cyprus talks? They were supposed to happen today…
Spokesman: The Cyprus talks? No. Let me see what I have on the Cyprus talks. What I can tell you is that the leaders’ meeting that was scheduled for Thursday, for today, will not take place as planned. The Special Adviser, Espen Barth Eide, will continue his work with both leaders who have maintained their commitment to the process. And new dates will be announced in due course.
Question: And, finally, since you said that the Secretary‑General is going to Geneva, there are now… more than a week ago, there was a letter by the Government Accountability Project. I know you sometimes say you disagree with them automatically. But they wrote saying to the Secretary‑General about three whistle-blower cases, Emma Reilly, Miranda Brown, and Mr. [Anders] Kompass, and said that he should… that there should be a probe conducted by the Secretariat of retaliation in Office of the High Commissioner. Is he aware of the letter? And is it something he…
Spokesman: I don’t know if he’s personally aware of the letter. If we received the letter, I’m sure it will be answered. Thank you.