The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Human Rights Council
In Geneva today, the Secretary-General spoke at the opening of the Human Rights Council session, saying that he came at a time of urgency. Disregard for human rights is a disease, he said, and it is a disease that is spreading — north, south, east and west. The Human Rights Council must be part of the cure, the Secretary-General added.
He went on to say that we must speak up for human rights in an impartial way without double standards. And he added that we must invest in human rights and recognize human rights as values and goals unto themselves — not allowing them to be instrumentalized as a political tool.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights also spoke to the Council, and noted that some political leaders today wage campaigns against universal human rights, or threaten withdrawal from international or regional treaties and the institutions which uphold them. He said to those leaders that it is worth recalling what the world has achieved over seven decades — and what we all stand to lose if their threats succeed in choking off universal human rights.
The full speeches are available online and I think the whole proceedings are being shown on WebTV.
You will have seen that over the weekend, we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General said he was deeply concerned about the increased tensions in the vicinity of Guerguerat in the Buffer Strip in southern Western Sahara, between the Moroccan berm and the Mauritanian border.
The Secretary-General called on both of the parties to exercise maximum restraint and take all necessary steps to avoid escalating tensions, be that through actions of military or civilian actors. He also underlined that regular commercial traffic should not be obstructed.
Today, MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara] observers confirmed that the Moroccan armed elements have withdrawn from the Buffer Strip. The Secretary-General welcomes this withdrawal.
The United Nations is continuing to engage with both parties to ensure de-escalation in the area and their full adherence to the spirit and the letter of their obligations under the ceasefire agreement.
Amina Mohammed, the new Deputy Secretary-General, will be formally taking office tomorrow. She will have a swearing-in ceremony tomorrow morning. After that, she will address the Economic and Social Council [ECOSOC] at 10 a.m., in her first official engagement.
Once that has concluded, we expect her to do a brief press stakeout outside the ECOSOC chambers — and that is about 10:45 but we will confirm that later today.
The Security Council this morning was briefed by Zahir Tanin, the head of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).
He told Council members that the past months have been marked by inconsistent progress and by heightened tensions between Belgrade and Pristina.
Mr. Tanin noted that earlier this month, Belgrade and Pristina leaders finally met at the highest political level in Brussels under the auspices of the European Union, calling it an essential step to chart a path out of a deteriorating situation and to publicly reconfirm their commitment to work together.
He underscored that there is no alternative to dialogue, and also pointed out that any tension or potential crisis between Belgrade and Pristina cannot be seen in isolation from the challenges that the region already faces.
This afternoon, the Council will hold closed consultations on sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as well as other matters.
The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, arrived in Aden yesterday.
Speaking to the press today, he said: “We are here to help and provide neutral, impartial life-saving assistance to all people in need, regardless of where they are in Yemen.”
He met yesterday with the Yemeni President, [Abd Rabbuh] Mansour Hadi, Prime Minister [Ahmed] Bin Daghr and senior members of the Government of Yemen to discuss ways to strengthen cooperation between authorities and humanitarian partners. He stressed the need to ensure protection of civilians and humanitarian access to affected populations.
Mr. O’Brien visited a hospital in the centre of Aden yesterday, where he saw first-hand the damages suffered by the hospital as a result of the conflict. He visited the Al Qateea’a neighbourhood and listened to the concerns of families who have been displaced regularly
Mr. O’Brien is currently in Yemen’s Ibb Governorate and we will update you as he continues his travels.
From Syria, we remain extremely concerned for the safety and protection of more than 400,000 people who remain besieged in eastern Ghoutah in Syria.
Intense fighting in and around eastern Ghoutah has been reported over the past week, resulting in death and injury to civilians, and affecting civilian infrastructure, including damage to medical facilities, and schools closures in several districts.
The last UN inter-agency mission to the area was in late October 2016 and civilians currently have limited access to critical food, health and nutrition assistance.
The UN calls on all parties to the conflict to spare civilians and civilian infrastructure and to ensure unimpeded, sustained and unconditional access to all people in need across Syria. This includes recent requests to reach several locations in East Ghoutah.
**Central African Republic
Our colleagues in the Central African Republic’s peacekeeping Mission, MINUSCA, report that yesterday some 40 heavily-armed members of the coalition led by the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de Centrafrique (FPRC) were located a few kilometres north of the town of Bambari. In accordance with measures previously announced, in order to prevent a war in Bambari between the FPRC and the UPC, the Peacekeeping Mission intervened by air to stop progression of the armed elements of the FPRC.
Three members of the FPRC were apprehended by the UN Mission. The Central African Republic’s judicial authorities will proceed to interrogate them regarding their presence around the city, with support of the UN Mission. Seven members of the coalition were also wounded during the operation and one died.
The UN Mission once again calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities and reiterates its determination to use all means authorized by the Security Council to prevent fighting in Bambari. The Mission also denounces the pressure exerted by the FPRC coalition on the displaced people in Ippy, east of Bambari, preventing civilians from leaving the area.
Over the weekend, the UN Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) deplored the outbreak of violence in the Abu-Selim district in Tripoli that resulted in many casualties.
The Mission commended the Presidency Council and community leaders’ efforts to reach a ceasefire agreement and prevent further escalation. The UN Mission also called for the terms of the agreement to be implemented immediately and for those responsible for acts of violence to be held accountable.
Martin Kobler, the Special Representative for Libya, said that this incident once again demonstrates the need for a swift political solution, including a united Libyan army, operating under civilian control.
The World Health Organization (WHO) published today its first-ever list of antibiotic-resistant “priority pathogens” — a catalogue of 12 families of bacteria that pose the greatest threat to human life.
The list was drawn up in a bid to guide and promote research and development of new antibiotics, as part of WHO’s efforts to address growing global resistance to antimicrobial medicine.
Lastly, I have a senior appointment to announce: the Secretary-General is announcing today the appointment of Dag Halvor Nylander of Norway as his Personal Representative on the Border Controversy between Guyana and Venezuela.
Mr. Nylander will actively engage with the Governments of Guyana and Venezuela with a view to exploring and proposing options for a solution to the border controversy between the two countries.
If, by the end of 2017, the Secretary-General concludes that no significant progress has been made, he will choose the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as the next means of settlement, unless the Governments of Guyana and Venezuela jointly request that he refrain from doing so.
The new Personal Envoy was most recently the Norwegian Special Envoy to the Colombia peace process. A full biography is available in my office.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On Morocco’s announcement of it… that it is pulling out immediately from the Guerguerat region, do you think that this move will help defuse any tensions in the region?
Spokesman: Well, we obviously welcome the move, and we see it as a positive movement. And as… I think, as the Secretary‑General said, we would like to see a general easing of the tensions. Yes, sir?
Question: Yeah, follow‑up on that. Can you confirm that the Secretary‑General called his Majesty, the King of Morocco, in order to reduce the tensions in Western Sahara? This is one. Second, do you have any comment on the Oscars for the White Helmets in Syria?
Spokesman: We’re obviously, I think… on the… Western Sahara… sorry. Yes, I can confirm that the Secretary‑General did speak to the King late last week. He also spoke to a representative of the Polisario [Front]. I think anything that can shine a spotlight on the tragedy that is going on in Syria and the amazing work that Syrian humanitarian workers do is something… is to be applauded. As we’ve always said from here, the humanitarian work being carried out in Syria is done primarily by Syrian civilians, by humanitarian workers, who are themselves on the front lines. Edie and then Matthew.
Question: Thank you, Steph. On the Central African Republic, you said that the UN and the coalition intervened. How exactly did they intervene?
Spokesman: That the UN used attack helicopters against the FPRC that was advancing. Mr. Lee and then…
Question: I guess one… just, on Western Sahara, I wanted to ask, is the… has something changed in terms of providing readouts of calls, like, to the King of Morocco or the scheduled meeting with Mr. [Ahmed] Boukhari of Polisario? I didn’t see it on his schedule. Is that something different than what the previous…
Spokesman: I don’t there’s anything different. I think it’s the Secretary‑General’s prerogative to make calls sometimes away from the spotlight of readouts. The other party put out a readout. That’s their right. I think it’s… the Secretary‑General will… is using, will continue to use, discreet diplomatic contacts as he sees fit.
Question: But what about in‑person meetings with diplomats? Like, I noticed he listed Ian Bremmer. He didn’t list Polisario. Did that happen…
Spokesman: Again, it’s part of the Secretary‑General’s attempt to have… to conduct discreet diplomacy in every way he can.
Question: Okay. That… I’d wanted… I started asking you on Friday, but I wanted to ask you now about this letter from Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous to Dimitri Samaras of the staff union saying that… that Mr. Ladsous will be contacting the staff members still not back to MINURSO to, quote, discuss their status and a way forward in the coming weeks. Does “a way forward” mean any possible reassignment? And I wanted to ask you specifically… you’d said you’re unaware of any reassignments. And I’ve heard that Ms.… that Lee Hyojin has been reassigned to…
Spokesman: I don’t have access to people’s personnel files here. What I’m saying is that we’re… obviously, as we’d said last week, we’re working towards re‑establishing full functionality. And we’re trying to work on those staff members who have not been able to rejoin… rejoin the mission, and we remain in close contact with them. And we’re keeping them informed of their situation, but I’m not going to go into individual cases here.
Question: But my question was just whether there had been reassignments. It wasn’t about any individual. It seems like…
Spokesman: Well, you mentioned an individual…
Question: I know, because you never answered the question. You actually said there were no reassignments…
Spokesman: What I’m saying to you is we’re in touch with the staff members, and each case is being dealt with. Yeah?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. So following the Moroccan withdrawal from the area, what is now expected from the Polisario?
Spokesman: Well, obviously, as we’ve said in the statement, we would like to see both sides withdraw their armed elements. Yes, Carole?
Question: Just on the Secretary‑General’s conversation with the Moroccan King, did the… did he raise the full functionality issue? And was there any discussion of Christopher Ross not going anywhere and…
Spokesman: On Christopher Ross, obviously, when we have something to announce on his travels, we will. I’m not… I have no further details to share on the conversation, unfortunately. Carla?
Question: I wanted to ask, what is the reason for a meeting to increase the sanctions on the DPRK? Since there are nine nuclear powers, all of whom have tested nuclear weapons, threatened various and sundry people, one power has used them, why targeting the DPRK…?
Spokesman: I… Carla, I think that’s a question for members of the Security Council and the presidency, but not one that I can address. Yes, Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. So, again, at the danger of you saying it’s a personnel issue, on 21 February, I asked your deputy about this case that’s reported in both Turkish Cypriot and Cypriot side of the Chief Financial Officer of UNFICYP (United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus) becoming a Cypriot citizen. So I wanted to know, since I’ve heard nothing back, do you have an answer? And, two, I’ve obtained or been… a memorandum that, in fact, these issues around Mr. Hussein Mousa were raised to Mr. [Atul] Khare and a variety of Under‑Secretaries‑General as far back as May 2016, including an educational problem. And so I’m wondering, since this is now supposedly a problem in the talks, the Turkish Cypriot side has raised it, what is the answer on it?
Spokesman: I don’t know the individual involved, but I know that UNFICYP is aware of the case and the competent UN offices are reviewing it, also to confirm its compatibility with applicable UN rules. Once the review is taken, then we’ll take a look at the situation.
Question: And I wanted to ask you, on Burundi, I’d… I’d asked last week about the… the trai… the reported training by the Spokesman of the army, training by the UN of the Burundian force in CAR in drones. And I wanted to also ask you about a… over the weekend, the Burundian Ambassador, Mr. [Albert] Shingiro, I would only ask about a tweet because he called the UN part of an axis of evil that tried to do regime change in 2015 and said that António Guterres has invented a word, fourth term, in his new report. So it seemed to be something I wanted to ask you to respond to this statement by a Permanent Representative…
Spokesman: I’d like to think that we’re not part of an axis of evil, but just as a general rule, and I think for the Secretary‑General, it’s about urging all Burundians, stakeholders, to place their countries’ interests above their own and commit in good faith and without precondition to a truly inclusive and credible EAC [East African Community]-led dialogue based on respect for the Arusha agreements.
Spokesman: Ms. Leopold? Drones, I have no information.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Have the border tightening measures by the United States affected meetings at the UN for non-diplomatic personnel? People have to plan ahead, like CSW (Commission on the Status of Women)…
Spokesman: I understand. I’m not… none that I’m aware of. I mean, nothing has been flagged to me. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Okay. I have two, I guess, journalistic… well, press access questions, one that you might not… apparently don’t think is legitimate. First, one just has to do with Mr. O’Brien’s trip. There was complaints made by the media that, recently, UNHAS (United Nations Humanitarian Air Service) flights into Yemen don’t allow journalists. So I wanted to know, are journalists on his trip? And even if they are, will this continue after? Is there journalistic access to the parts of Yemen he’s going to…
Spokesman: I’m not… my understanding is that he’s not taking… did not take journalists with him on the trip.
Question: And is the UN going to produce its own video? Is there going to be some kind of a way to… to……
Spokesman: There are journalists there locally. So, as we said, when we announced the trip, he has three media opportunities.
Question: Okay. And the other one I wanted to ask you… and… and respond as you will. I… on Friday, I’d asked you, with all due respect, where the Secretary… you know, the Secretary‑General… sort of where he was. And I’d asked it in the context of, like, this is what people that cover the President of the United States, the Mayor of the City of New York, so you didn’t answer it. Do you think it’s an illegitimate question or is it just…?
Spokesman: I didn’t say it was an illegitimate question.
Question: Okay. So where was he?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General was in Portugal over the weekend. He left on Friday and is… went to Geneva Sunday night.
Correspondent: Okay. Thanks.
Question: Just briefly, do you expect Mr. O’Brien to deliver a written report on Yemen? And, if so, when?
Spokesman: I’m sure he will report back to the Council, as he usually does. We’re trying to have him be piped in here on Wednesday from his travels. All right?
Question: Do you have anything on UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency), just a statement?
Spokesman: On what?
Question: UNRWA. There were two statements by… there was a statement and then a quote by Mr. [Chris] Gunness about the suspension of an employee. I’m just wondering, do you have…
Spokesman: Yes. Well, I think, on UNRWA, I would just echo what Mr. Gunness — I can’t read anymore — what Mr. Gunness said. They have conducted an internal investigation, and they have now suspended… to make a decision to suspend Suhail al‑Hindi, pending the outcome of the investigation. And I think it bears importance to reiterate that the UN has clear rules and regulations to ensure the integrity, independence, and impartiality of its staff as international civil servants. Our Standards of Conduct make clear that we do not have the freedom of private persons to take sides or express our beliefs publicly on sensitive political matters, either individually or as members of a group. And on that, I will walk away from the podium.