Monday, 9/12/2019 | 2:31 UTC+0
Libyan Newswire

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General arrived in Madrid from Geneva today.  In a short while, the Secretary-General will meet with Foreign Minister José Manuel García Margallo of Spain.  They are expected to speak to the press following the meeting, and we will issue a transcript as soon as possible.  And then tomorrow, the Secretary-General will travel to Burkina Faso.

Earlier in the day in Geneva, the Secretary-General inaugurated the newly renovated Russian Salon, at the Palais des Nations, in the presence of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.  In his remarks at the inaugural ceremony, the Secretary-General thanked the Russian Federation for its continuing support — not only for the physical upgrading of UN premises, but also for recent political advances, including in Iran and Syria.

Immediately afterwards, the Secretary-General held a meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov.  The Secretary-General thanked him for his significant role in achieving recent progress on Syria.  They agreed on the importance of urgently moving forward simultaneously on implementing the cessation of hostilities agreement, providing vital humanitarian assistance to civilians, and returning to political negotiations.  The full readout is available in our office and online.


The Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, today announced that intra-Syrian peace talks will resume in the afternoon of 9 March.  That’s next Wednesday.  The target date for the resumption of peace talks had initially been 7 March, but, in order to allow adequate time to address logistical and practical matters, the Special Envoy will now resume the talks two days later.  Mr. de Mistura looks forward to Syrian participants’ engagement in serious discussions with a view to implementing Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).


In a statement we issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General condemned the recent atrocious terrorist attacks in Baghdad and Muqdadiya that killed scores of civilians and injured many more.  The Secretary-General is concerned that these cowardly attacks claimed by ISIL at funerals, markets and places of worship are aimed at undermining the unity of the people of Iraq.  He appeals to them to reject such attempts at fear-mongering.

And Ján Kubiš, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, today said that the attacks in Muqdadiya, as well as other attacks in Abu Ghraib and at a market in Sadr City as well as places of worship, have one goal:  to undermine Iraqi unity.  He added that the conflict continues to exact a heavy toll on the population, noting the casualty figures released today by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), which show that 670 Iraqis were killed and 1,290 injured in February.  Still on Iraq, we had been asked recently about what we are doing to deal with possible structural damage to Iraq’s Mosul Dam.  The UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Iraq is working with the Iraqi Government to establish an emergency alert and communication system for Mosul dam.

UNDP is also developing the basic elements of a “public emergency awareness mechanism” for people living downstream of the dam.  UNDP is coordinating with the local authorities to identify every possible way to provide time-sensitive information to vulnerable people.  At the same time, UNDP believes that much more needs to be done at the local level to help prepare vulnerable communities to know what to do when the emergency alert system is activated.  The Italian Trevi company is also helping to bolster the dam, and the UN Mission, UNAMI, strongly urges the Government of Iraq to take all necessary steps to enable the company to start the necessary work as soon as possible.


Releasing its latest report on civilian casualties, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) says that since the beginning of this year it has documented an estimated 66 civilian casualties, including 28 deaths and 38 injuries, because of hostilities across Libya.  The majority of deaths and injuries were caused by shelling, including mortars, artillery and other indirect weapons, while the next leading cause was gun shots, explosive remnants of war, aerial bombardments and suicide attacks.  More information is available on the Mission’s website.  I also wanted to flag that we expect the Special Representative for Libya, Martin Kobler, to speak to you at the Security Council stakeout following the Council’s meeting tomorrow morning.


The UN refugee agency, UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], is warning that Europe is on the cusp of a largely self-induced humanitarian crisis.  This is in light of a rapid build-up of people in an already struggling Greece, with Governments not working together despite having already reached agreements in a number of areas, and country after country imposing new border restrictions.  UNHCR says that inconsistent practices are causing unnecessary suffering and risk being at variance with EU [European Union] and international law standards.  It adds that, as of last night, the number of refugees and migrants in Greece and needing accommodation had soared to 24,000 and that crowded conditions are leading to shortages of food, shelter, water and sanitation.

UNHCR also says that data as of this morning shows that 131,724 people made the journey during January and February, most of them landing in Greece.  This approaches the total for the first six months of 2015.  The agency says that Greek authorities are trying to respond now to prevent a further deterioration of conditions, but more resources and better coordination are critical for averting wider suffering and chaos.  There’s more on UNHCR’s website.  And UNICEF says that the situation at the border points has left thousands of children stranded.

**World Bank Group

As you know, the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, is in Washington D.C., where he spoke at the World Bank Group Forum on Fragility, Conflict and Violence this morning.  Stressing that wars have recently grown in intensity and scale, he said that several factors including economic volatility and inequalities, human rights violations and a growth in violent extremism, are feeding conflicts today.

Mr. Eliasson added that we must give priority to preventing conflict, reducing humanitarian needs, and working together to sustain peace by achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  He called the World Bank Group an important partner and urged greater collaboration at a time of mounting risks for peace and sustainable development.  His remarks are available online.


I have an appointment to announce.  The Secretary-General has decided to appoint Judge Theodor Meron of the United States as President of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals or known as the Mechanism for short, for a new term commencing on 1 March 2016.  The decision was made after consulting the President of the Security Council and the judges of the Mechanism.  Judge Meron will continue to serve as a judge of the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) while working as the President of the Mechanism.

And the Secretary-General welcomes the decision of the Security Council to appoint Serge Brammertz of Belgium as Prosecutor of the Mechanism. The appointment is also effective as of today and Mr. Brammertz will continue serving simultaneously as Prosecutor of the ICTY.  The Secretary-General is grateful for Hassan Bubacar Jallow’s service as the first Prosecutor of the Mechanism from 1 March 2012 until 29 February — that was yesterday — also as Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.  The Mechanism was established by Security Council resolution 1966 (2010) of 22 December 2010 to carry out the residual functions of the two tribunals.  It has two branches, in Arusha and in The Hague. 

**Zero Discrimination

Today is Zero Discrimination Day and to mark this year’s commemoration, the UN Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, or UNAIDS, encourages everyone to stand for fair and just societies.  Today, discrimination in health-care settings continues to be widely reported.  UNAIDS says that health-care settings should be considered as safe and caring environments and that any obstacles that inhibit access to health-care facilities, including to testing, treatment and care services, must be removed.  UNAIDS is partnering with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Health Workforce Alliance to develop a plan for action to end discrimination in health-care settings.  More information is available online.


And the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board, or INCB, will launch its Annual Report for 2015 in Berlin tomorrow at 10 a.m. GMT.  So, for all you early birds in New York, that’s 5 a.m. East Coast time.  The report has a special focus on the health and welfare of humankind as the main objectives of the international drug control treaties.  The main press conference launch will be held in Berlin by Werner Sipp, the President of the INCB Board, and it will be webcast live.

**Honour Roll

And for the honour roll, we would like to thank Israel, Liechtenstein and Serbia for paying their dues.  A total of 42 Member States have contributed to the regular budget in full for 2016.

**Press Encounters

As for press encounters, in a short while, I will be joined by John Ging, the Director of Operations for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  And he will brief you on his recent trip to Myanmar — that’s after you are done with me.  And then at 5 p.m., here in this room, there will be a briefing by Ambassador Ismael Abraão Gaspar Martins of Angola, President of the Security Council for the month of March.  He will brief on the Council’s programme of work for the month.  Yes, Joe?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, I know the Secretary‑General yesterday had said that the ceasefire in… or the cessation of hostilities, I should say, in Syria were holding, by and large.  I’d like to know, first, whether that assessment remains the same in the passage of the 24 hours since he made that statement.  And, secondly, because there have been allegations of violations on both sides, what monitoring or confirmation is being done through the UN to back up the Secretary‑General’s assessment?

Spokesman:  Yes.  Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, has made clear that there is monitoring… a monitoring mechanism involving the guarantors for this agreement, which is to say the United States and the Russian Federation.  So, there are monitoring sites based in Syria and also in Amman, Jordan.  If the UN has any relevant information about potential incidents that we feel need to be investigated, we have been bringing that to the attention of the guarantors, and they’re trying to follow up.  And they are trying to coordinate to make sure that there is no proliferation of incidents.  As with any cessation of hostilities, it’s been very clear that the violence doesn’t just stop all of a sudden.  So we are aware that there could be scattered incidents happening, but by and large, the cessation of hostilities has largely held, as the Secretary‑General indicated yesterday, and we are taking steps with the guarantors to try and make sure that no incidents cause any proliferation of violence and cause the cessation of hostilities to come to an end.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, I’m sure you heard about the reconciliations that are taking place in Daraa in south-east Syria.  How does the United Nations view that?  Also, there were reports that the armed groups, the moderate armed groups even, were preventing people from relinquishing their weapons and coming forward for the reconciliation.

Spokesman:  We don’t have any particular reaction to the steps.  What we are working on, as you’re aware, is to make sure that a cessation of hostilities will hold.  We are trying to use that as an opportunity to step up humanitarian aid, including to the besieged towns.  And, as I’ve just indicated, Staffan de Mistura has now invited the parties to come to a resumption of inter‑Syrian talks on 9 March.  So those… that is where we are focused on.  And we’ll see whether any local developments on the ground can help with the peace process.  Obviously, anything that can help bring parties together, we would like to see what we can do to build on that progress.

Question:  A follow‑up… another question.  Today, a ship carrying nine containers of weapons was seized in Greece, going from Turkey to Lebanon.  Have you heard about this, and what’s your reaction to that?

Spokesman:  No, I’m not aware of that report.  We’ll have to check what… what’s going on there.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I had some other… I wanted to ask about the Secretary‑General’s trip, but you’d men… you’d given this readout about the post given to Mr. Meron and the… the… and Mr. Brammertz becoming the prosecutor.  I wanted to know, obviously, as I’m sure you know, in the Security Council yesterday, all three African members abstained, saying that it was incorrect, saying, in a variety of ways, that Mr. Jallow was mistreated, that an African candidate should have been considered.  And so, I’m just wondering, it’s pretty ex… it’s not every day that all three African members abstain.  What is the Secretariat’s response to this degree of dissatisfaction with his decision?

Spokesman:  Well, we certainly appreciate the work that Mr. Jallow has done, as I’d just indicated.  He really was able to be the first person to serve as a prosecutor for the Mechanism, and of course, he’s done an excellent job with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, trying to bring a large number of cases to a close.  So, the Secretary‑General, once more, would like to reiterate his appreciation for the work that Mr. Jallow has done.  In this case, this was an appointment that goes through the normal procedures for making an appointment.  And I don’t have any further comment.  Obviously, we at the UN want to make sure that, for all key appointments, that there is appropriate geographical representation.  And we will continue to try to do that, and we’ll be in dialogue with all the regional groupings to make sure that they’re satisfied with how we go about our appointments process.

Question:  Well, I mean, obviously in this case, the African group wasn’t satisfied, but when you say it was the normal process, how was the selection done?  Were there interviews done with people?  You said it was the normal process.  What is the process?

Spokesman:  It’s the standard process.  Yes, there’s normally a series of candidates that’s looked at and a selection is made, but…

Question:  And what was… who was on the panel?

Spokesman:  We don’t go into the particulars of that, as well you know.  Yes?

Question:  A follow‑up on Syria.  Is there any designation of where the terrorist lines are?  Because they’re mixed in with all sorts of non‑terrorist groups who are fighting the Syrian Government, and some of the alleged moderates have asked, how would they know?  You know?

Spokesman:  Well, we have general maps on the situation in Syria at the UN.  At the same time, the guarantors, that is to say, the US side and the Russian Federation side, have their own military maps, which are separate and apart from our maps.  And what we trust is that they would take the information that they have, confer with each other, and compare their information.  So… so, we are working with them.  Like I said, when the UN, the Special Envoy’s office or others, have any information of potential military activity, anything that could be a violation of the cessation of hostilities, we’re taking that up with the respective guarantors.  Yes, Oleg first.

Question:  Is there any way to see this map… the UN map?

Spokesman:  Put it this way, Staffan de Mistura had an interview earlier today with one of your counterparts, and he said, and this is a quote, “We have only general maps on what is the general situation in Syria before the ceasefire, which you can find them on Google, by the way,” which indicates where the Kurdish side is, where the ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant]/Da’esh grey area is and so on.  So, these are general maps.  You can find them on the internet just as easily as we can.  Yes?

Question:  Yes.  I noticed yesterday, late yesterday, in Burundi that the African Union announced they were sending military advisers and human rights advisers to the country.  This is five Heads of State who have told the President of Burundi that’s what’s going to happen.  Do you know, A, if they’ve been accepted?  B, how does that mesh with human rights monitors that the UN was going to send?

Spokesman:  Well, we have our own proposals.  We would need to be able to compare and contrast once we get the information from the Heads of State themselves.  As you know, Jamal Benomar had stayed behind in Burundi, had conferred.  He is, this week, I believe, going to be reporting at some point to the Security Council here in New York about his own findings, but he is trying to get updates about these travels, and we’ll respond accordingly.

Question:  Do you know if the AU group is accepted, if it’s really going to go, or the President has something… ?

Spokesman:  No, ultimately, that’s a question for the African Union.  Once… if they have any sort of acceptance of what they have been proposing, we would confer with them on what that entails.  But, we, of course, have had our own proposals.  Like I said, Jamal Benomar will, in the coming days, be briefing the Security Council, and we’ll be able to shed some further light on how the various proposals sync up at that point.  Oleg, then Nizar, and then Matthew.

Question:  Farhan, you said it’s a general map.  Before that you said it’s… the UN has its own map.  So, who actually drew this map?

Spokesman:  Like I said, the UN’s maps are general ones, and what we are aware of is that the American authorities and the Russian authorities have their own military maps.  And what we’re relying on is for them to coordinate with each other, and then we provide information that we have whenever we think that there’s relevant information about potential violations that we need to share.

Question:  And when was this map last updated?

Spokesman:  Like I said, the… this was… the information we have, the ones we use, which are, like I said, general maps, are the ones that show what the situation was as of the start of the period when the cessation of hostilities went into effect.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah.  Mr. [Stephen] O’Brien spoke about Yemen’s dire humanitarian situation.  He mentioned two weeks ago that 2 million Yemenis are in very bad need of food and water, et cetera.  Since then, how do you describe the progress in providing aid to the Yemenis?  Has there been any progress?  Also, what happened to the WFP [World Food Programme] ship which I asked about yesterday?

Spokesman:  Well, as I believe I said, we’d… we had gotten… given clarified information about the information and communication technology that was on board the ship.  What we’re hoping for is now… now that that information has been shared by the Saudis and other authorities that it can proceed about its way.  And… 

Question:  Do you mean until now it hasn’t been released from Jizan?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware that the ship had been released, but the information has been shared, and we’re trying to coordinate… to rectify any misunderstandings about the technology that had been on board, which was technology that was designed for a protection cluster.

Question:  It has been now… Over a week, I mean, it has been.  Do you remember the date it was seized?

Spokesman:  It was seized… yeah, it was more than a week ago, but like I said, we’re trying to rectify the situation.  I don’t have anything about the freeing of the ship to report at this stage.  Yes?

Question:  So, how… how… how about the humanitarian situation?  Is there any progress regarding these millions of people who are in need of it?

Spokesman:  Well, we’re continuing as best we can to provide humanitarian aid in Yemen, but as you’re aware, four fifths of the country, 21 million people, are in some form of need including, as you mentioned, 2 million that have very severe needs.  We’ve been raising attention to this including the needs for access and for funding, and we’ll continue to do so.  And our guest Mr. Ging may have…

Correspondent:  Just a quick follow‑up on that… a quick follow‑up.

Spokesman:  Sorry.  There’s other people asking questions besides you.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  About the resumption of the talks on 9 March, what’s the preparation process?  Is Mr. de Mistura supposed to send a new round of invitation… invitations?

Spokesman:  Yes, he’ll be inviting the parties.  The first thing to do, of course, was to set the date, and he has done that just over the past hour or so.  Yes?

Question:  So, when will he start to send invitations?

Spokesman:  The parties will get… the parties who had been participating will get the invitations now.  Yes?

Correspondent:  Sure, great.  Burundi, Darfur, Spain and Sri Lanka.

Spokesman:  You know, again, there are other people in the room.  You don’t get four in a row like that.

Question:  Oh, I don’t need… they don’t have to be in a row.  These are questions I want to ask.  On Burundi, I wanted to ask you, the Foreign Minister has recently tweeted that the… only what was read out by President [Jacob] Zuma and not necessarily another statement that’s come out more formally from the African Union binds the country, and I was wondering, given the UN’s role there, what do you make of that?

Spokesman:  Well, as I mentioned, Mr. Benomar will be in touch with his African Union counterparts, and we’ll get clarifications on what exactly they’ve been offered.

Question:  And the Foreign Minister in Burundi also said, on 23 February, he quoted Ban Ki‑moon online; it remains online, saying, “Messieurs ministres, je suis tres satisfie”.  Did… is that, in fact, what Ban Ki‑moon said?  Is that an accurate description of Ban Ki‑moon’s views on Burundi?

Spokesman:  It’s his views in general?  Of course not.  You know what his views in general are.  You can easily say that in reply to anything, as you know.  He could have been talking about any number of topics.  Context is what’s important.

Correspondent:  Food.  You like the food.

Spokesman:  Yes, Carmen?

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Farhan.  The security Council decided in April last year that a… there should be an arms embargo to the Houthis in the north in Yemen, and my question would be, is there any reaction to Amnesty International’s call that there be, across the board, arms embargo in Yemen, including with the coalition led by the Saudis?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Ultimately, as you know, it’s for the Security Council to determine what kind of arms embargo would be in place in Yemen, so you’d have to take the matter up with them.  Joe?

Question:  Yeah.  Back to Syria.  Just one specific question.  Do you know whether the Kurds will be formally… the Syrian Kurds will be formally invited this time to participate?

Spokesman:  We’ll have to see who is participating.

Question:  And will the list…?

Spokesman:  My expectation is that those… those who had previously been involved will be involved at the resumption.

Question:  Will the list of… will list of…  I’m sorry.  Will the list of invitees this time, the specific invitees, be made public or available to us?

Spokesman:  I do not know at this stage.  It’s a bit early yet.  Yes?

Correspondent:  Thank you, Farhan.  A Ugandan opposition group has launched a legal challenge against the disputed re‑election of President (Yoweri) Museveni.  In light of the Secretary‑General’s comments on the election, I wondered whether he had any reaction to this.

Spokesman:  Well, you’ve heard the concerns that we’ve expressed.  As for any complaints about the elections, we trust that any complaints will be sent through the appropriate channels and the electoral authorities that are in place.  Okay.  Oleg?

Question:  Thanks again.  Farhan, on DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], I’m sure you already commented on this, but if you could please remind us, is the Secretary‑General concerned about the possible implications of the sanctions… new sanctions — the strictest sanctions ever — that are going to be adopted against the DPRK?  Because there are a lot of the concerns about the humanitarian effects of that.

Spokesman:  I’m not really going to say anything in advance of actions by the Security Council.  You’ll have seen what we had already said following the testing by the DPRK several weeks back.  And it’s quite possible that we’ll have something more to say once the Security Council has taken its consideration.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, going back to the issue of inspection and verifications, the Mechanism, does the vessel of WFP fall under that category?  Is Saudi Arabia allowed to inspect any UN ships as such?

Spokesman:  You’ve heard what we’ve had to say about how we get aid into Yemen and the procedures we follow.  In this case, we’re making clarifications, and we trust that the matter will be resolved.

Question:  But, do they have the right to seize a ship like this?

Spokesman:  We have been working with all the authorities on the ground to make sure that our aid ships can go without hindrance.

Question:  Is verification and inspection on now?  Is it working now…?  Is it…?

Spokesman:  We have a system in place, and we’re relying on the system to make sure that aid can get to the people who need it.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask about… again about the repatriation of the South African battalions or entire force from Darfur.  There’s continuing interest in it, and I wanted to know whether the incident in which the Sudanese army was said to have encircled and almost taken hostage the South African battalion while President [Omar] al‑Bashir was in South Africa and there were rumors he would be arrested for his ICC [International Criminal Court] warrant, whether this was the tactical violation that led to this… the… the leaving?

Spokesman:  I wouldn’t speculate on what South Africa’s reasoning is.  That’s really a question to ask the Government of South Africa.  They took the decision, and we are… they’ve notified us, and we’re proceeding in accordance with their wishes.

Question:  Are you saying DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] played no role, didn’t ask them to leave?  Because that’s… is that what you’re saying?

Spokesman:  We’ve already talked about how we’ve been informed about their intention to leave, the date in which that’s going to happen, and we’re making the procedures accordingly.  We valued the contribution that South Africa’s made, but, as you know, when any contingent chooses to depart, we make the appropriate arrangements.

Question:  And Spain very fast and then Sri Lanka.  On Spain, is it… is the Secretary‑General meeting with any official higher than the Foreign Minister during his time there?

Spokesman:  It’s possible, but we’ll find out tomorrow.

Question:  Okay.  And on Sri Lanka, I wanted to ask you, there was a protest overnight, whatever the time difference is, at the UN compound in Jaffna by Tamils.  And I have to say, the protest was of… to restore full credentials to Inner City Press and open press.  You can find it on… it was reported in Uthayan, which is a publication that was burned down repeatedly by the Government that’s been spoken of from this podium.  So, I’d like to know… I know that Stéphane [Dujarric] yesterday said he doesn’t agree with the Government Accountability Project.  What is the UN’s response to a protest at its compound in Jaffna on this topic of free press?

Spokesman:  Matthew, I’m not going to comment on your personal case.

Question:  I’m asking about a protest of the UN.

Spokesman:  I know that you’re dealing with DPI [Department of Public Information].  While you’re…

Question:  I’m not dealing with the DPI.  They never spoke to me before they did it, and I’m asking you about a protest.  Do you have a comment?

Spokesman:  I would have no comment on this, no.  Thanks.  And let’s get to our guest.