“I am very, very sorry, and I apologize to the Syrian people that…we haven’t helped them very much,” said Mr. Brahimi, the United Nations/Arab League Joint Special Representative, telling a press conference that while no date was set to resume the talks, he presented both sides with an agenda for the next round, “so that we don’t lose another week or 10 days as we have this time.” This is the second round of UN-sponsored direct talks between Government and opposition representatives – the first set of discussions took place in late January – to end a war which has killed well over 100,000 people and driven nearly 9 million others from their homes since the conflict erupted between President Bashar al-Assad and various groups seeking his ouster nearly three years ago. “People are dying, the country is being destroyed. If this track aims at helping the Syrian people, then of course, the faster we achieve tangible results, the better,” Mr. Brahimi said in response to a question, but added he has made it clear that “everybody needs to go back to their base and we will contact each other to determine the date [of the next round]. The talks have so far yielded only modest cooperation between the sides on allowing UN and Syrian Red Crescent relief workers access to thousands of people trapped in the long-besieged Old City of Homs, and Mr. Brahimi said today he felt “the little that has been achieved in Homs gave [the Syrian people] even more hope that maybe this is the beginning of the coming out of this horrible crisis – I apologize to them.” As for next steps, Mr. Brahimi said the parties agreed to his proposal that a new round of talks would focus on violence and terrorism, a transitional governing body, national institutions and national reconciliation. But he acknowledged that the main sticking point persisted: the Government side considers that the most important issue to be combatting terrorism; the opposition considers that the most important issue is forming a transitional governing authority. “We suggested that the first day will be set for discussion on…ending violence and combating terrorism and the second day would be reserved for a discussion on the TGB [transitional governing body],” he explained, but while he had made clear that one day would not give enough time to conclude discussions on either issue, “unfortunately, the Government has refused [this approach], which raises the suspicion of the opposition that in fact the Government doesn’t’ want to discuss the TGB at all.” “I very, very much hope that the two sides will reflect and think a little bit better and come back ready to engage seriously on how to implement the Geneva Communiqué,” he said, referring to the 2012 action plan adopted at the first international meeting in Switzerland on the conflict and the full implementations of which is the basis of the current talks. “The Communiqué helps the two sides, and us sitting between them, to start the long road towards ending this crisis.” Of the fact that the two sides remain at odds over how to tackle his four-point proposal, Mr. Brahimi underscored that while they had “at least” agreed on an agenda: “It is not good for Syria that we come back for another round and fall in the same trap that we have been struggling with this week and most of the first round.” “I think it is better that every side goes back and reflect and take their responsibility: do they want this process to take place or not? I will do the same,” he said, adding that will head to New York to meet with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, as well as United States Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the initiators of the Geneva talks. He also plans to brief the other permanent five members of the Security Council – China, France and the United Kingdom – as well as the body’s 10 non-permanent members. “So I hope that this time of reflection will lead the Government side in particular to reassure the [opposition] that when they speak of implementing the Geneva Communiqué they do mean that a TGB exercising full executive powers will be the main objective to follow,” said Mr. Brahimi, adding that ending violence and combating terrorism “is extremely important, indispensable.” Asked if he had a specific message for President Assad as the talks wrapped up, Mr. Brahimi said: “My message to everybody involved in this terrible crisis is to think of the Syrian people, to think of the immense suffering that has been imposed on [them], the destruction that has taken place in Syria, and to think of what anyone can contribute to pull Syria out of the ditch in which it has fallen.” To a question about the ongoing commitment of Russia and the US, he said he continued to believe the two countries are important partners with the United Nations. “There is no doubt – and I have said repeatedly- that the United Nations, the Russian Federation and the United States; none of them can turn a blind eye to this huge crisis in Syria.”
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AUDIO: In her call to the authorities on World Press Freedom Day, Sheila Keetharuth, a UN investigator, said the more than decade-and-a-half long detention of journalist Dawit Isaac in Eritrea must end. Credit: UN News In a “post-truth” world with “fake news” on the rise, and media accountability and credibility falling under question, free, independent and professional journalism has never been more important, the United Nations today said.“We need leaders to defend a free media. This is crucial to counter prevailing misinformation. And we need everyone to stand for our right to truth,” Secretary-General António Guterres said in a message to mark World Press Freedom Day. This year’s theme highlights media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies and builds on the theme ‘Critical Minds for Critical Times.’ The 2017 commemoration comes at a time when “free, independent and pluralistic media has never been so important to empower individual women and men, strengthen good governance and the rule of law, and take forward the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural (UNESCO) said in a statement.The agency is also tasked with defending press freedom and the safety of journalists, and is spearheading the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.“Far too often, murder remains the most tragic form of censorship,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said in her message on the Day, noting that 102 journalists were killed in 2016. She noted that “facing a crisis of audience identity, journalism stands before a horizon where old challenges are merging with new threats,” which include the Internet’s blurring of the lines between advertising and editorial material, businesses pushing for profits and private censorship. RELATED: UNESCO award for Dawit Isaak ‘sign of hope’ to free imprisoned Eritrean journalistIn her message, Ms. Bokova cited Guillermo Cano Isaza, a Colombian journalist assassinated in 1986, whose name was lent to the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. He wrote: “Only the independence, the character, the objectivity and the good judgment of the journalist and the media can overcome the terrible storms of the new world that threaten freedom of information everywhere.” Ms. Bokova noted those words, written two years prior to his death, “continue to resonate today, 33 years later.” She called for “original, critical and well-researched journalism, guided by high professional, ethical standards and a quality media education” and for audiences who “have the right media and information literacy skills.” VIDEO: “Defend those that give voice to the voiceless” – UN Secretary-General António Guterres on World Press Freedom Day 2017.Press Freedom is marked annually on 3 May. UNESCO’s main celebration of this year’s edition of the Day will take place in Jakarta, Indonesia, from 1 to 4 May.The programme of the four-day conference has been designed to raise awareness of the importance of free and fact-based journalism in promoting peace and justice, and supporting the efficiency, accountability and inclusiveness of institutions, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs). The event is organized with the Government of Indonesia and the Indonesian Press Council.During the event, Ms. Bokova will award the 2017 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize to Dawit Isaak, the imprisoned Eritrean-born journalist who will be represented by his daughter, Bethelem Isaak, during a ceremony hosted by Joko Widodo, the President of Indonesia. In Geneva, a UN human rights expert welcomed the granting of the prize to Mr. Isaak, and urged Eritrea to free him. “The Eritrean authorities should stop the practice of arrests and detention carried out without legal basis instantly,” said the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth, in a new release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). A special event will be held at UN Headquarters in New York on Thursday.