The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General arrived this morning in Asuncion, Paraguay, for a two-day visit to the country. It is the first visit by a UN Secretary-General in that country in 56 years. Secretary-General is scheduled to meet with President Horacio Manuel Cartes Jara of Paraguay, as well as other senior officials. He will also be meeting UN staff working in the country, and representatives of civil society, as well as indigenous groups. We will issue readouts of his main meetings, as well as remarks to the press in Paraguay later today as they happen or after they happen rather.
**Deputy Secretary-General Remarks
Back here, speaking at the General Assembly debate on integrating crime prevention and criminal justice in the post-2015 development agenda, the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, today stressed that there can be no peace without development, and no lasting peace or sustainable development without respect for human rights and the rule of law. Mr. Eliasson added that as we move forward with our plans for transformative sustainable development, we must acknowledge the debilitating and destabilizing effects of crime and violence.
The head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC), Yury Fedotov, also addressed the General Assembly. He said as the UN marks its seventieth anniversary this year, the thirteenth Crime Congress, which will take place in Doha, Qatar, in April this year, is well placed to contribute to the global discussion on crime prevention, criminal justice and sustainable development.
The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) continues to undertake a series of urgent consultations with Libyan parties to make sure that the next round of talks are convened soon. The Mission believes that ending the severe political division in Libya is of critical importance, since its continuation will only pose a clear threat to the unity and cohesion of the country.
It has appealed to all parties to renew their commitment to a peaceful resolution of the Libyan crisis and not allow this window of opportunity to slip away. The mission also issued a statement condemning the killing of the activist Entissar al-Hasaeri in Tripoli. And it calls on Libyan judicial authorities to thoroughly investigate such murders and bring the perpetrators to justice. The statement is on the mission’s website.
Speaking of missions, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) says that some progress has been made in the treatment of conflict-related detainees in Government detention facilities. In a report released today, it welcomed the new Afghan administration’s commitment to accelerate its efforts to fully eliminate the practice of torture and ill-treatment in detention facilities. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Nicholas Haysom, said that despite the progress, more needs to be done and added that the UN will support the Government’s comprehensive approach to eliminate such practices.
And a couple of updates on Gaza as I am regularly asked: First, on the Reconstruction Mechanism. As of [22 February], over 72,000 homeowners have been cleared to receive construction material for shelter repairs and close to 50,000 have already procured construction material to date. The processing of some 71 construction projects through the Palestinian Authority is ongoing, including housing projects, water networks and schools. Of these, 25 projects have been approved to date. And the 25 that have been approved include schools, water related projects and waste management related projects.
Furthermore, our humanitarian affairs colleagues, report that UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] is currently providing shelter and basic services to almost 11,000 internally displaced people living in 15 collective centres. Over 1 million people across the Gaza Strip are receiving food assistance, mainly from UNRWA and the World Food Programme (WFP). And as you would recall, the recently launched Strategic Response Plan for Occupied Palestinian Territory seeks $705 million to assist 1.6 million Palestinians in need.
From Geneva today, the High Commissioner for Human Rights warned that Myanmar seems to be headed in the wrong direction and needs urgently to get back on track in a crucial year for the country’s democratic transition and long-term reconciliation. He said that the international community has seen the transition in Myanmar as a story of promise and hope. But, the High Commissioner said that recent developments relating to the human rights of minorities, freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest are calling into question the direction of that reform and even threatening to set it back.
And from Bangkok, more than half of the world’s 226 natural disasters in 2014 occurred in the Asia and Pacific region. That’s according to a new report released by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) that was released today. Although there were no large-scale catastrophes caused by earthquakes or tsunamis, the region experienced severe storms, cross-border floods and landslides. And more is available, is online. And as you may be aware, preparations are under way to finalize a new global framework for disaster risk reduction. And that will be finalized next month in a UN meeting.
**World Health Organization
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for Europe has called on policy-makers, health-care workers and parents to immediately step up and support vaccination efforts against measles across at risk age groups. Seven countries in the region have reported more than 22,000 cases of measles in 2014, and 2015 so far. WHO remains concerned that despite efforts to make safe and effective vaccines available over the last 50 years, measles continues to cost lives and money.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
And I have been asked a number of times in this room about the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and I can tell you that the [United Nations Organization Stabilization] Mission [in the Democratic Republic of the Congo], MONUSCO, reports that the Congolese army, the FARDC, has indeed launched its operations against the FDLR in Uvira territory, in South Kivu. And that happened on 24 February.
And lastly, our honour role: today, we thank Egypt, Romania and Samoa because they paid their bills in full. And that brings up to… ? How many Member States paid in full?  Bingo! Thanks for paying attention, Matthew.
With that, I am now ready to take questions. Masood.
**Questions and Answers
Correspondent: … deal is now at hand. But, there are no details. Do you… oh.
Spokesman: No, I saw… I think…
Question: Do you have any details?
Spokesman: No, no details. I did see a press release by the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] issued yesterday giving a readout of the meeting of the Director General and the Iranian minister, but I have nothing from here beyond that.
Question: On Palestinian… that… there was a report in BBC today which said at least $4 billion are needed to start rebuilding the destroyed Gaza. Now, do you have any idea where this money is going to come from?
Spokesman: Well, the money… the money’s going to have to come from donors. As you know, we had the Gaza reconstruction conference, which brought quite a high number of pledges. Not all of those pledges have been materialized into cash assistance. Before the briefing, I was in touch with our colleagues at World Bank who are tabulating those numbers, and they tell me they should have something soon to share.
Question: But… but the occupying Power, does it have any responsibility?
Spokesman: Well, I think the responsibilities of the occupying Power are laid out in international law. Michelle?
Question: Thanks, Steph. A followâup on the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo]: the start of the operations against the FDLR. Do you have any details on either deaths or surrenders of FDLR combatants and any civilian toll displacement, deaths, anything like that?
Spokesman: No, not any more than we’ve received from the Mission. As you know, the Mission is not supporting this specific operation that is under the command of two generals that we have mentioned here. There are some reports that the Mission has received that three FDLR personnel were captured. It’s obviously critical in this military operation, as in any other, that any operation be conducted in full respect of international human rights, international humanitarian law, and that civilians be protected. Sir.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I have a question on Libya and my understanding is that Mr. León is in Algeria. Can you please tell us what is he doing there? And since… and why the… some parties withdrew from the talks in Morocco? What’s the problem?
Spokesman: I think… as we’ve said, this is a process that the UN is facilitating. but that is Libyanâled. Why people… why certain groups remove themselves from the talks, I think you’d have to ask them. I’ll try to get a confirmation as to whether or not he actually is in Algeria. But, clearly, what we want to see of the outcome of these talks — and we are continuing to work hard to resume these talks as soon as possible — is a strong Libyan Government that all of the Libyan people can have faith in in order to start rebuilding their country, but we will try to get you an update on Mr. León. Ms. Fasulo and then Matthew.
Question: You mentioned something about Afghan Government hoping to [inaudible] activists. How… do you have any details in terms of how prevalent the use of torture is by the Government and also the number of detainees?
Spokesman: I’ll try to get you numbers. This is in a report that UNAMA put out today. We’ll get you a copy of the report, but obviously, the issue of the treatment of detainees has been a pervasive problem in Government facilities in Afghanistan. Mr. Lee, then Erol.
Question: I want to ask about South Sudan and also Bangladesh. On South Sudan, I had asked you at yesterday’s briefing there’s 80-some children who were abducted. And Mr. Ladsous in his testimony said the UN became aware of this on 15 February. But, some are now pointing out and asking why UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] didn’t, in fact, report this until 21 February. So, I wanted to know what UNICEF or the Mission… what is the UN’s policy when it becomes aware of abuses like that of actually going public with it?
Spokesman: One would hope that they become public as soon as possible. I think Mr. Ladsous made those public in a very public forum in an open meeting of the Security Council. You can check with UNICEF if they have any further information.
Question: But, what’s UNMISS’s [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] role… what’s their role when they become aware of abuses like that?
Spokesman: I think as… I don’t have the practical details of what happened in the Mission, but I think, obviously, in any mission, the UN has a responsibility to report on human rights abuses and issues that it sees. Sometimes it may take a few days in order to verify or at least get a level of comfort… even if we can’t fully verify it, to get to a level of comfort where we think we should make these things public.
Question: I’ll hold off on Bangladesh for now, but I wanted to ask on Tabit, since you bring up this idea of the duty the UN… Is there any update at all on access to the Tabit… ?
Spokesman: You will be the second one to know after me. Erol.
Correspondent: Thanks, Stéphane. Some prominent European figures are saying that Ukraine is on the verge of actually facing the same destiny as one of the former Yugoslav Republic was facing at the time, namely Bosnia. They’re even comparing current President of Ukraine, Mr. Poroshenko, with former President of Bosnia, Mr. Izetbegovic. And they are saying that Debaltseve… sorry for my pronunciation…
Question: … Debaltseve is set to become next Sarajevo. Question is whether the SecretaryâGeneral is concerned and how that Ukraine really can become as they’re saying a frozen conflict. And number two, in addition, does the SecretaryâGeneral think that the promises given to him by Mr. Putin during their meeting in Moscow last fall that there’s not going to be further military involvement of Russia in Ukraine or [inaudible]?
Spokesman: I think we will leave it to the commentators to make the comparison to situations past or present for that matter. I think the SecretaryâGeneral has had Ukraine very high on his agenda over the last few months, and just in the last week he met with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, the Russian Foreign Minister. From this podium, almost every day, we’ve been bringing to your attention — the attention of anyone who’s listening — the dire humanitarian situation in a country where less than a year ago there were almost no humanitarian needs and now we’re seeing huge needs in terms of people receiving… needing to receive food, internally displaced people. The situation is indeed critical in Ukraine. I think the step now is for all those who agreed to the package of measures in Minsk to live up to their commitments, and to stop the fighting to enable civilians to return to some level of normalcy and to engage in real political dialogue. The framework was… you know, there have been agreements that have been signed and those need to be lived up to.
Spokesman: Well, I think… I heard your question. That was my answer. Nizar.
Question: With the deal that looks imminent between United States and the P5 and Iran on nuclear issues, more war-mongering is coming from Israel and they revealed yesterday and some in Washington, also, as well, that there’s a secret deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel allowing Israeli aircraft to fly over Saudi Arabia to strike Iran. How does the United Nations view such revelations?
Spokesman: As much as I always appreciate all your commentary, I obviously… the UN is not involved, as you know, directly in the P5+1 talks on the Iran nuclear issue. We have no specific intelligence on where the talks are going. As for reports of secret conversations and secret deals, I read the same papers that you do, but obviously, there’s nothing I can comment on, on what is blind speculation. I’ll come back to you. Sylviane?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On the abduction of the Christians in Hassakeh, do any… what kind of action, practical action, the United Nations can take to help the Christians in Syria, the Christians in Iraq, and to do something practical?
Spokesman: Well, I think the practical action we are taking is helping people in Syria regardless of their faiths, whether they be Sunni, Shiites, Alawites or Christians. We are helping civilians wherever they are in Syria. And as you know, we’re also bringing support to the millions who are outside of Syria, who have been forced to fled. We’ve seen the reports of this abduction, and I think the SecretaryâGeneral would once again call on their immediate release unconditional as he would call on the unconditional release of everyone who’s being held against their will in Syria. Stefano.
Question: Yes. Does the UN have an estimate of how many fighters ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham] has? Because there’s been so… you know, different numbers circulating.
Spokesman: No, like I said, we have no specific intelligence on the numbers of fighters beyond what we’ve seen reported. Yes, sir, and then we’ll go…
Question: Thank you. In West Bank there was arson attack towards Al-Huda mosque and Mr. Robert Serry issued a statement, but what about the SecretaryâGeneral?
Spokesman: I think the SecretaryâGeneral completely backs the statement issued by Mr. Serry. Yes, go ahead.
Correspondent: Yeah. Thank you. Mr. Stéphane. The main opposition Chairperson of BNP and former Prime Minister of Bangladesh is, around 40, 50 days, he’s confined to his office. And recently, the Government issued an arrest warrant and [inaudible] when they decided United Nations and all development partners, they are… they are continuing their support and they are telling that to go for a dialogue and for a peaceful resolution. And the Prime Minister [inaudible]…
Spokesman: I will stop you there. I’m aware of the situation. I would just love to hear a question.
Question: Yeah. They will say that they will not tolerate any influence by the Western country or the United Nations. So, what is the stand of the United Nations?
Spokesman: We’re obviously aware of the arrest warrant that was issued against the leader of the BNP. The SecretaryâGeneral remains very concerned. I think as we’re seeing these heightened tensions and the continuing violence, political violence we’re seeing in Bangladesh, and again, he renews his appeal to all political leaders to seek a peaceful resolution to the current crisis for the good of longâterm development and the stability of Bangladesh. Roger.
Question: Thanks. Amnesty International’s annual report yesterday… they said they welcomed a proposal which have been backed by 40 Governments for the Security Council to adopt a code of conduct agreeing to voluntarily refrain from using the veto in a way in which would block the Security Council in situations of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity. Would the SecretaryâGeneral back such a proposal?
Spokesman: We understand that these are discussions going on. It will be up to Member States and members of the Council to decide on the way forward on these proposals. I would refer you back to the statements the SecretaryâGeneral made in the Security Council I think on Monday… what day’s today? Wednesday? On Monday on the open debate on peace and security talking about the responsibilities of Member States on the issue of sovereignty and how sovereignty comes with responsibility. I think his outlook, I think, is contained in that statement. Yes, please.
Question: Thank you. In Western Africa, there seems that there will be next week a major ground and air offensive against Boko Haram, the Multinational Task Force that was allowed during the African Union Summit where the SecretaryâGeneral was present. So, it seems like a real war is going to start in a few days. Do you know if there has been done any step to actually get the Security Council goâahead on this? And has the SecretaryâGeneral had any further contact with multinational force?
Spokesman: We do expect at some point this issue to come to the Security Council. We’ll have to see, wait and see when that happens. I think it’s important in that conflict, as in any other conflict, that great care be taken in the protection of civilians and the respect of human rights as military operations go about against Boko Haram. We’ll go to round two. Matthew, then Nizar.
Question: Sure. I wanted to… thanks for that statement on Bangladesh. But, I wanted to ask, beyond just the arrest warrant against Zia, there’s a Mr. Mahmudur Manna has been arrested for trying to stir up the army and he’s been arrested by something called the Rapid Action Battalion, RAB. The reason I’m asking is research discovers that Mohammud [inaudible] of this Rapid Action Battalion named in a filing that was directed to ICC is reportedly about to take up a position within MONUSCO. I’ve been asking you this a number of times. What’s the… you’d said that the UN has all these concerns, but given that much of the violence in Bangladesh is actually, you know, allegedly perpetrated by the military that’s contributing soldiers, I’m naming this name just to sort of… as a sample case. What does DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] do to review the people coming in? There are other conflicts…
Spokesman: I understand. I’ve heard your question. I tried to answer to the best of my ability yesterday when you last asked it. You know, I have no specific information on the case that you mention or the people you mention. There are procedures in place in order to ensure that DPKO uniformed personnel meet the requirements that we have and also in terms of human rights. If I have any information on those specific cases, I will share them with you.
Question: Some Iraqi media outlets have reported quoting some Iraqi generals as warning against air drops to ISILâcontrolled areas. Supplies of weapons have been spotted and filmed in some, certain areas especially in the Baghdadi area which was taken over and some of the weapons were seized according to these media outlets. Does… did UNAMI report anything of that kind and how serious such an allegation… ?
Spokesman: I haven’t seen anything from UNAMI on this, but we can take a look.
Question: I have another question regarding Bahrain today’s Sheikh Ali Salman’s who’s been in jail for a long number of months, his detention has been extended another month for trial. How does United Nations view such… ?
Spokesman: I’ll take a look. I hadn’t seen that report. But, I will take a look. Linda?
Question: Going back to Ukraine, Stéphane, would you have any kind of breakdown in terms of the responsibility of both the Government and the separatists in terms of getting to civilians into these dire humanitarian crises? In other words, who’s responsible? How does it divide up between Government responsibility, separatist responsibility, for putting these… ?
Spokesman: You mean who is responsible for the actions?
Spokesman: You know, I think we’ll… the next human rights report Ukraine comes out on 2 March. So, hopefully, that will have a bit more detail. As you know, the UN has human rights observers where it can. We do not have sort of observers like the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] trying to get in on the front lines. It’s a little bit difficult for us to sometimes pinpoint the responsibility who is… we have no, I would say, forensic investigation capacity there to pinpoint who is responsible for what… for which incident. What is clear is that overall, all the armed combatants in the conflict have a responsibility to ensure that there are no civilian casualties. Stefano?
Correspondent: Yes. About last week, we heard in Aleppo, the City of Aleppo, there will be a truce. This is what the Special Envoy… just the timing because people are dying today.
Spokesman: Very aware of the ongoing violence. As we’ve said Mr. de Mistura is on his way to the region. As soon as we have firm dates to announce and he’s going there to firm up the commitment expressed by the Government of Syria and to ensure that this freeze is actually put into place. Nizar.
Question: On the same subject, high parliamentarian delegation went to Damascus and met officials there. Has there been any communication between the mission in Syria and this parliament… ?
Spokesman: Are you referring to a group of French parliamentarians?
Spokesman: We will ask. Yes, sir.
Question: The Amnesty International reported that the law enforcement agencies in Bangladesh, they’re doing continuously extrajudicial killings. And yesterday, eight people died including public representatives, local counsellors. And the senior leader [inaudible], one of senior leader [inaudible]. He’s been in for [inaudible] 30 days. So, what is the… ?
Spokesman: I haven’t… we have not… I have not seen the Amnesty International report. I think I would just underscore once again the SecretaryâGeneral’s call to all political leaders in Bangladesh to find a peaceful political resolution out of this current tensions, and obviously is a way to stop the violence that we’re seeing. Mr. Lee, for once, you’ll have the last word.
Question: Okay. Sure. I just… and actually, I’m not sure you’ll answer this, but I did want to ask you. We did it on Kubiš. So now I want to ask you this one. Whether you can confirm that Mr. Kim, Kim Won-soo, is a candidate to replace Angela Kane at the top UN disarmament?
Spokesman: I will not. Because I do not know. Thank you very much. Have a great day. We’ll see you Thursday. Right?
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.