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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
I have an update on Syria: Evacuations carried out by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) continued throughout the day yesterday and resumed this morning from the besieged neighbourhoods in eastern Aleppo, with operations expected to continue throughout the day. UN teams continue to be present at the Ramouseh Government checkpoint in Aleppo to observe and monitor the evacuations. As of today, the ICRC estimates that more than 25,000 people have been evacuated from besieged neighbourhoods in eastern Aleppo since 15 December. The evacuated people are arriving in the reception centres in Atareb and Sarmada, where their immediate needs are being taken care of by Syrian and international humanitarian personnel.
The UN, as mandated by the resolution the Security Council passed yesterday [resolution 2328 (2016)], is in the process of strengthening its capacity in Aleppo city. We have received authorization to send twenty international and national staff to Aleppo — an additional twenty — to play a critical role in the monitoring and the response across Aleppo city. Protection of civilians leaving these areas remains our biggest concern. All remaining civilians must be allowed to safely leave should they choose to do so. Access to people in need to provide them with life-saving humanitarian assistance is also urgently needed. And in parallel, today, some 20 empty buses headed this morning towards Foah and Kefraya to take besieged people out of those locations. While the UN has not been part of those negotiations or the evacuation, we remain ready to assist all civilians in need who are being evacuated.
Back here the Secretary-General this morning spoke at the Security Council’s open meeting on trafficking in persons, in what was his last scheduled Security Council appearance during his mandate as Secretary-General. He said that trafficking is a global problem — but the most vulnerable people are those caught in conflict: women, children, internally displaced and refugees. He said that war provides oxygen to terrorist groups. Da’esh, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab and others are using trafficking and sexual violence as a weapon of terror — and an important source of revenue.
The Secretary-General added that prevention should be at the forefront, and he welcomed his successor’s focus on this very important priority. His remarks are available in my office, as are those of Zainab Bangura, the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, and Yury Fedotov, the head of the UN Office for Drugs and Crime. And he will be my guest at the briefing tomorrow, when he will present the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons. That’s tomorrow.
In a statement we issued earlier today, the Secretary-General condemned the terrorist attack in Berlin last night, expressing his deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims of this horrific act, as well as to the Government and the people of Germany. He wishes a speedy recovery to those injured. The Secretary-General hopes anyone involved in the commission of this appalling crime will be swiftly brought to justice.
In an earlier statement, we also condemned the assassination yesterday of Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, in Ankara. The Secretary-General expressed his deepest condolences to the family of the Ambassador and to the Government and people of the Russian Federation.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Peacekeeping Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) reports that the situation in Kinshasa remains tense after anti-government protests and reports of gun-fire overnight and today. Since 16 December, the UN has documented 113 arrests in the country. The Mission also received reports of several people killed in the capital and is in the process of verifying this information. Clashes between protesters and security forces were also reported in Lubumbashi in Haut-Katanga province. Meanwhile, in Goma in North Kivu, the situation was reported calm as of this morning. Separately, in Butembo in North Kivu, peacekeepers and Congolese troops engaged Mayi fighters, resulting in one captured and another killed. Two peacekeepers injured in yesterday's attacks are now being listed in stable condition.
And the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, said he was very pleased by the safe release yesterday of three UNHCR staff members who were abducted on 27 November in El Geneina, in Sudan. He thanked the Sudanese Government and its personnel, as well as the members of the UN’s hostage management team. His full statement is available online.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights urged judicial authorities in the Philippines to launch an investigation following President Rodrigo Duterte’s admission last week that, when serving as Mayor of Davao, he had killed three people and encouraged others to do the same. The High Commissioner, Zeid Raad al Hussein, said that such acts contravene the rights enshrined in the Philippine Constitution and violate international law, including the right to life, due process and innocence until proven guilty. More information is online.
And federal and regional authorities in Iraq, together with UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and the World Health Organization, launched a 12-day campaign to immunize some 800,000 children under the age of five against polio. The campaign started on 19 December and targets children in Anbar, Salahaddin and Kirkuk governorates. The campaign is part of the vaccination strategy in the context of the ongoing Mosul operations; some 45,000 children affected by the Mosul operations will be receiving vaccines. Iraq was removed from the list of polio-infected countries in May 2015, but there remain resurgence risks due to surveillance and immunization coverage gaps in conflict zones. This will be the first time in two years that these children have been receiving vaccines.
**Horn of Africa
And our colleagues at FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) warned today that countries in the Horn of Africa are likely to see a rise in hunger and further decline of local livelihoods in the coming months, as farming families struggle with the knock-on effects of multiple droughts that hit the region this year.
And this morning, the Secretary-General received from the Prime Minister of Spain the Spanish Collar of the Order of Civil Merit. In response, the Secretary-General said that he accepted the honour on behalf of all of the dedicated staff of the United Nations.
And just to remind you, as the Secretary-General announced last week, he will be travelling to Illinois tomorrow. His first stop will be in Carbondale, where he will give a lecture at Southern Illinois University. The Secretary-General will then travel on to Springfield, where he will visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, as well as the tomb of the former President of the United States. Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: On the evacuations from Aleppo, I was wondering how many people there are left now in Aleppo. Do you have any figures? And also, you mentioned Foah and Kefraya. A clarification: Has the evacuations begun yet or… and how many people are there? And where will they be taken? And do you have anything on Madaya? Will there be any evacuation from Madaya? Thank you.
Spokesman: I don't have an update on Madaya. On Foah and Kafraya, basically, we're reporting that 20 buses have gone in this morning to take people out. We're not handling those evacuations. Obviously, we are… but we're there ready to assist once they get out. So my understanding is those operations are ongoing. We've seen different estimates as to the number of people in Eastern Aleppo. It's in the thousands. Obviously, our concern is that there's been little or no humanitarian access to those populations for quite some time. We're eager to see those people be able to receive food, medical supplies, and whatever else they need, given the dire circumstances under which they've been living for quite some time. Evelyn?
Question: Yes. Can you explain again where these mon… these monitors are? Are they in East Aleppo? And I assume they've already been based in Syria since Ambassador [Bashar al] Jaafari said only those in the country are allowed in…
Spokesman: Yes, we have… as I said yesterday, we have a bit more than 100 UN staff, mostly Syrians, some international, in Aleppo, UN humanitarian staff. There are being augmented by a surge team of about 20 more people coming from other parts of Syria. They're already in Syria. Right now, the UN teams are present at the Ramouseh Government checkpoint on the Government side in Western Aleppo as the people come in. This is really a first step in the implementation of the resolution. We're not everywhere we want to be. The issue of access continues to be a challenge.
Question: So, in other words, the… in other words, there are no UN monitors in Eastern Aleppo.
Spokesman: Not at this point, as far as the update I have just received.
Question: Right. And, secondly, how… what's stopping humanitarian aid from going wherever you think it should go, West Aleppo?
Spokesman: Mostly safety concerns and our… unfortunately, a situation where… this has been the case for some time now in Syria… we have to negotiate humanitarian access, but humanitarian access should be free of all political negotiations, but it's unfortunately not the case. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sorry. Do you negotiate with Syria or the Russians?
Spokesman: We negotiate with all the people we need to negotiate in order to get our people in safely.
Question: Sure. I have questions on Iraq and CAR [Central African Republic]. But I wanted to ask you first about the use of the room prior to the noon briefing. I saw a sign, "closed meeting." It seems clear it was used… or you tell me if it's wrong, but for Korean media exclusively. I wanted to know, first, can we get a transcript? Second, was anything said that's relevant to the run for… a possible run for presidency in South Korea by Mr. Ban? And what are the… what are the… I guess, how is it appropriate? If you once said that Francois Hollande trying to limit the briefing room to only French journalists was wrong, how is it right in this case?
Spokesman: Well, obviously, I think during the General Assembly, we try to keep this press room as open as possible. The press briefing room was used for a group interview by the Secretary‑General, because it was the best place to do it, given the size of the number of participants. We're not in the habits of sharing transcripts of other people's interviews before publication. That's just an ethical position that we have.
Question: It said "closed meeting". When you went to the webcast, it said "Noon Briefing," and then you clicked it, and it said "closed meeting," so is that…
Spokesman: Well, that's just… it's just a use of the room. And we just didn't want…
Question: Why not release the transcript? I guess I'm saying… can you answer…
Spokesman: Because as a matter of… at least the journalism I learned, as a matter of basic journalism ethics, we don't release transcripts of other people's interviews before they publish them.
Question: John Kerry releases… releases… they do it all the time. I guess my question is, after these… after 24 hours, will you release it? Just so we can know whether the room was used to campaign for the President of South Korea?
Spokesman: I think you will read probably soon everything that your colleagues may have written. Next question?
Question: Okay. I wanted to ask you on Iraq, yesterday, I'd asked you about the South Sudan, and it seems like there's an acknowledgment that weapons were given to this James Koang and… with some reasoning. I wanted to ask you now, and maybe you'll know this or you can find out. I've heard that UNAMI [United Nations Assistance Mission] in Iraq run by DSS [Department of Safety and Security] has lost… has lost control of 25 weapons, including 18 Glock pistols, including 2 sniper rifles. And what I wanted to know is, one, it seems like it's pretty serious if it's happened. It would be twice that weapons have gone to unknown people that may kill people with them. But what is the protocol of UN Missions informing the Security Council when heavy lethal weapons… they either give them over voluntarily or, in this case, seemed to have lost possession of them?
Spokesman: I'm not aware of the details of the investigation that may be going on in Iraq. If I have something to share with you, I will. I think, as we said yesterday, the incidents in South Sudan happened a number of years ago. It was a very tense situation in the beginning of the civil war. I think better procedures were then put in place to ensure that weapons that are confiscated are then destroyed, and that's the policy that's in place in the Mission.
Question: Right. But can you get some answer on Iraq? I just…
Spokesman: If I have something to share with you, I will share it with you. Ronda?
Question: Yes. A follow‑up to what Matthew asked. I thought the Secretary‑General has said he would not campaign before he leaves as the Secretary‑General. Was this meeting not a campaign activity?
Spokesman: I don't… I would not describe it as a campaign meeting, first of all, because the Secretary‑General's made it clear that he's made no decision on what he will do next once he returns as a private citizen to Korea in mid‑January. Throughout his tenure and the tenures of other Secretaries‑General, we've often regrouped journalists by nationality. He sometimes does group interviews with Japanese media. He just did one with Korean media. And, frankly, I think, if you ask your Korean colleagues, I think they've had very, very limited access to the Secretary‑General to date.
Question: Did Secretary‑General speak about the General Assembly resolution that says that he is to refrain from running for a political office because he's had a… a substantial activity as part of being Secretary‑General and that any nation that a Secretary‑General is involved with should refrain from asking him to run for a political office? That's a resolution of the General Assembly…
Spokesman: No, I'm aware of the resolution. I think the resolution addresses the question of a Secretary‑General, upon retirement, being offered a position by a government; it does not create a binding obligation on either the government or the former Secretary‑General in this respect. Implementation of the provision is left to the judgment of the government and the former Secretary‑General.
Question: Will he inform all the voters in South Korea that this is a General Assembly resolution?
Spokesman: I think, Ronda… first of all, Secretary… resolutions of the General Assembly are public. They're not secret documents, so everybody can be aware of those. Second of all, once again, the Secretary‑General has not made any decision. As he has said, he will go back to Korea in mid‑January as a private citizen. He will have time to reflect. He will meet with family, with friends and with other people in Korea and make a decision on how best he can serve his country after serving ten years as Secretary‑General.
Question: Will he take that resolution into account?
Spokesman: I don't… Ronda, I think I've run out of words to answer the question. Evelyn?
Question: If other candidates wanted to use the room, could they…?
Correspondent: It was very easy to question the Korean journalists, as I did, and we all had the same question on whether he was going to run or not, and they asked… they had that question and said he was not… that he was not giving any indication… because they're all fluent in English.
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General was very clear on his position when he addressed all of the journalists in his press conference earlier.
Question: Same topic?
Spokesman: You can try.
Question: Okay. I just wanted… I mean, obviously, maybe secondhand journalism is fine, but my question would just be, it's… really is… it's kind of a fairness issue. If… if the other named candidates… and they're already campaigning. I understand he may be… maybe Mr. Ban is being held back by not being able to do so openly. If they wanted to use UN premises for their press conference, could they…?
Spokesman: It's a completely hypothetical question. Olga. Hold on. I'll come back… I'll come back to you. Olga?
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. Let me go back to Syria. There is a meeting in Moscow between Russian, Iranian and Turkish foreign ministers. Do you have any outcome or the understanding of the outcome of the meeting and if some of the delegations share some final documents with you?
Spokesman: No, not yet. We've asked. I have not seen… we've not seen any outcome. Ronda?
Question: I have a follow‑up to this one and then a different one. And my follow‑up to this is: I'm asking if he did speak to the journalists about what… if he does run, what he would do? Was that addressed at any point during this press conference?
Spokesman: I… the Secretary‑General said nothing about his future plans that are any different than what he said here.
Correspondent: I have a second question.
Question: Okay. I thought that there's a sense I've gotten that's not quite accurate, but I don't… I don't… didn't have a chance to really pursue it. So thank you. All right. The second question I have is, I have it earlier on asked about S/NC, which means that private individuals and nongovernmental bodies can send to the Security Council a letter that… or communications about issues that the Security Council is seized on. This was a process from 1946 on…
Spokesman: No, I know. You've raised this issue before.
Question: Okay, And there was… There is somebody in the Secretariat… there are people who are involved who are put out… there's a list now put out 1 April of those people, but previously, it was put out periodically so that the… and it… part of this says that the Security Council can ask of the Secretariat for a… to see these communications. They get a list, and they can ask for them. What I want to know is why this was changed, and it was changed somehow as part of the Secretariat activity. It was changed from the list being periodical…
Spokesman: Well, I can… Ronda, I've heard you raise this issue, I know, with the Spanish presidency last… earlier this month. I'm happy to ask my Secretariat colleagues if they can provide some light into this dark matter.
Correspondent: Okay. I just want to also report I did get a correspondence back, thanks to the Spanish looking into it, and they did say that there is an address. They said the dpa‑email@example.com and 405 East 42nd Street. There's… that people… private individuals and NGOs can send correspondence to the Security Council. I appreciate very much that this is now public because for it to be hidden seems very, very inappropriate.
Spokesman: I understand. So the question is answered.
Correspondent: And when I asked you, I was transferred when I tried to call those people, I went… they transferred me to you, and you said write to the mission. So I wanted to also inform you that there is an address. I'll be glad to give it to you so you can inform people, and I appreciate any help you can get to look into this further. Because it's very important the Security Council be able to have access to this process that's one of their processes.
Spokesman: Thank you. I understand. All right. My colleague Farhan [Haq], who's always very quick, has given me some guidance on the Iraq weapons issue. I can tell you that it was discovered that several small arms and light weapons were missing from the armoury in Baghdad. Physical check of all UN compounds and inventories was immediately conducted and efforts to locate and recover the missing weapons continue. Thorough fact‑finding/investigation into this very unfortunate occurrence was immediately started, and it is ongoing. The respective Iraqi authorities, as well as the UN Secretariat, have been informed and are providing cooperation and assistance, as necessary.
Question: Just one quick follow‑up on that. I just wanted; I hear small arms/light weapons. We hear the term a lot. Inner City Press has reported prior to this briefing that this involves not only Glock pistols but five G36 assault rifles and two G36 sniper rifles and tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition. So I guess my question is, one, does that fall under the definition of sniper rifles?
Spokesman: Sniper rifles… several small arms/light weapons.
Question: Why does the UN have sniper rifles?
Spokesman: This is part of the protection team for the UN in Baghdad.
Question: And what would be the… what would be the, I guess, accountability if these sniper rifles and presumably marked ammunition are used to kill civilians in Iraq?
Spokesman: I think our focus right now is on recovering these weapons. Sherwin?
Question: We’ve been asking what the Secretary‑General will be doing next year, we've almost forgotten about asking what you will be doing next year. Is there any clarity on what Stéphane Dujarric will be doing on 1 January 2017?
Spokesman: The parole board met and denied me my freedom. [Laughter] So I will be here for a few months ongoing, and I'm very privileged that the Secretary‑General‑designate asked me to stay on.
Question: There are peace talks; the Special Envoy had already announced that he was planning to launch talks again in Geneva. What does the UN think of Kazakhstan's suggestion of hosting the talks in Astana? Thank you.
Spokesman: Obviously, I think it is something we're looking into, and we'll get back to the Kazakh authorities. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about the Central African Republic. The reports that there's a new… not just Seleka and anti‑Balaka but a new group called 3R, one of the R’s being return, that apparently killed 50 civilians in a single week in November in Ouham Pendé province. So I wanted to know, what is the… what is the mission there doing to protect civilians from this new…?
Spokesman: I haven't seen an update on this group.
Question: Okay. Since you're here, I just… I mean, since… it may seem like it's asked to you, but I haven't had an opportunity to ask you and I wanted to ask you, Wonder Woman, you said you'd give an answer. You did email the thing out. I'm saying it because when you read the coverage around the world… and there's a lot of it. If you Google UN, half of it some days is Wonder Woman. They say she… Wonder Woman was fired. Wonder Woman was… and then there's a UN response that, no, this was only planned. It would only last a few months. And it sort of gives rise to just a question, like, was there some sort of a contract to this? Is it unfair for the vast… the majority of the coverage to say that, in light of the protests that it's naming, it ended…?
Spokesman: It was not a contract. I think, from my understanding, from the beginning, the official designation was going to end in December, and it did. Thank you very much.