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.
My guest today will be Dr. Joan Clos, the Secretary-General of the Habitat III Conference and the Executive Director of UN-Habitat. He will be here to present to you the Habitat III Conference Outcome document.
I will start off with a statement on the elections in Lebanon. The Secretary-General welcomes the election today of the President of the Republic of Lebanon. He congratulates Michel Aoun on assuming the presidency and wishes him success in his position as Head of State. The Secretary-General hopes that Lebanese parties will now continue to work in a spirit of unity and in the national interest.
The people of Lebanon deserve to have functioning State institutions, in accordance with their constitutional and democratic rights. The Secretary-General therefore encourages the formation without delay of a government that can effectively serve the needs of all Lebanese citizens and address the serious challenges facing the country. He further underlines the need to ensure the holding of parliamentary elections on time. The United Nations looks forward to working with President Aoun and the Lebanese authorities, with the support of international partners, to continue to help Lebanon preserve its security and stability and improve its socioeconomic prospects.
The Secretary-General further thanks Prime Minister Tammam Salam for his leadership throughout this challenging period. That statement is online. And also related, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Sigrid Kaag, and the other members of the International Support Group for Lebanon welcomed the election of the President as a long-awaited step to overcome Lebanon’s political and institutional crisis. That statement is also available online.
As you just heard a short time ago, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the Special Envoy for Yemen, briefed the Security Council this morning and said that what Yemen is witnessing today contravenes the commitments made by the parties to the United Nations to peace. He said that the security situation is dire, and the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate despite the efforts of the humanitarian agencies. The conduct of the parties on the ground, he warned, is contrary to the commitments they made previously to engage fully and constructively in the UN-mediated peace process.
The Special Envoy will return to the region immediately to start consultations with the parties, both in Sana’a and Riyadh with the aim of reaching a detailed agreement based on the road map. It is now the responsibility of the delegations to prioritize peace, rather than partisan agendas, he added.
And the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, also briefed the Council by phone today, saying that the humanitarian situation in Yemen has worsened, adding that 80 per cent of Yemenis need humanitarian assistance. And he stressed the need for effective and independent investigations into war crimes. The Council also heard from the Regional Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Special Envoy will be at the stakeout to speak to you in a little bit.
And turning to Syria, the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said yesterday he was appalled and shocked by the high number of rockets indiscriminately launched by armed opposition groups on civilian suburbs of western Aleppo in recent days. Credible reports quoting sources on the ground indicate that scores of civilians in west Aleppo have been killed, including several children, and hundreds wounded due to relentless and indiscriminate attacks from armed opposition groups. Mr. de Mistura recalled that the use of indiscriminate weapons, including heavy artillery, on civilian areas could amount to a war crime. And that statement is online.
**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels
Tomorrow, the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, will depart Kigali, in Rwanda where he is now, for Bangui, the Central African Republic. During the visit, he will meet with the leadership of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), staff and troops, as well as with senior Government officials, members of the diplomatic community, religious leaders and civil society representatives. The Deputy Secretary-General is also scheduled to address the National Assembly of the Central African Republic.
**Central African Republic
And also on the Central African Republic, our colleagues at the peacekeeping mission these continue to monitor the situation in Bambari, after six local gendarmes were ambushed and killed by suspected members of the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic this past Friday. The Mission also reports that yesterday, suspected members of the anti-Balaka militia fired on a commercial convoy escorted by UN peacekeepers in Kémo, wounding a peacekeeper and six other civilians.
And on Burundi, the Special Adviser, Jamal Benomar, wrapped up a visit to the country where he met with various Government and opposition representatives. He is now in Tanzania, meeting with the dialogue facilitator for Burundi, former President Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania, and the Tanzanian foreign minister.
Mr. O’Brien briefed the Security Council by phone because he is in Bahrain today, where he spoke at the seventh Conference for Effective Partnerships and Information Sharing for Better Humanitarian Action, taking place there. Mr. O’Brien highlighted that OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] has enhanced its own presence in the region and established a presence in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan to support operations for Yemen, Syria, and Iraq in addition to offices in Cairo and Abu Dhabi. Mr. O'Brien is on a 10-day mission in the Gulf that will also take him to Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE [United Arab Emirates].
And the Secretary-General spoke by phone yesterday with South African President Jacob Zuma to express his regret over South Africa’s decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Secretary-General noted the key role that the Government of South Africa had played in the negotiations that led to the adoption of the Rome Statutes and as one of its first signatories. Noting that he appreciates the continued and unwavering commitment of the South African Government to justice and accountability, he expressed the hope that it would reconsider its decision to withdraw before the effective date, which is in about 12 months.
And I just wanted to flag a new report by UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund], which says that almost one in seven of the world’s children, 300 million of them, live in areas with the most toxic levels of outdoor air pollution. The report, Clear the Air for Children, uses satellite imagery to show for the first time how many children are exposed to outdoor pollution that exceeds guidelines set by the World Health Organization. The findings come a week ahead of the COP (Conference of Parties) 22 in Marrakesh, where UNICEF is calling on world leaders to take urgent action to cut pollution.
And also today, is the last day for Karen AbuZayd, and the Secretary-General thanks Karen AbuZayd, whose assignment ends today, for her outstanding work as Special Adviser on the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants. The Summit was a major step forward in addressing one of the leading challenges of our time, and Ms. AbuZayd played a key role in promoting the shared responsibilities for refugees and migrants and advancing efforts to counter the hatred they often face, including through the newly-announced global "Together" campaign against xenophobia.
The Secretary-General commends Ms. AbuZayd for her decades-long commitment, and looks forward to further contributing to the United Nations as she resumes her work as a member of the Human Rights Council's Independent International Commission of Inquiry on human rights violations during the Syrian Civil War.
Tomorrow, I will be joined by Muhannad Hadi, the WFP’s Regional Director for the Middle East, who just spoke to the Council. He will be discussing the current food crisis in Yemen; that’s tomorrow. Also tomorrow at 11:30 a.m., Ricardo Sunga, Chairperson of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent. And at 5 p.m., Ambassador Fodé Seck of the Republic of Senegal, will brief you in his capacity as President of the Security Council for the month of…? [November.] Somebody's paying attention. Thank you. Happy to take some of your questions. Yes, sir?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Happy Halloween.
Spokesman: It's scary enough without any masks. Yes, go ahead.
Question: On Lebanon, what does the Secretary‑General expect from the new president in Lebanon regarding the situation in Syria, since there are parties and individuals from Lebanon are involved in this war in Syria? Thank you.
Spokesman: Well, I think, for the Secretary‑General, the focus of the new government in Lebanon will be to bring together the Lebanese people to work in a spirit of unity and to ensure that Lebanon has the state institutions that it needs to serve its people. We also will continue to recognise Lebanon's amazing generosity towards all the refugees that it has been hosting — per capita, more really than any country in the world by far. As far as the situation in Syria, I think, regardless of the governments anywhere, it's important that all those who have an influence on the parties, either directly or indirectly, use that influence to bring an end to the conflict. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. I wanted to ask you about Burundi and… and Morocco. In Burundi, there's a report by FIDH, the human rights group, of additional gra… mass graves found. So I wanted to know whether the UN team… you said remains on the ground. Are they aware of this? Do they accompany them? And do you have any readout on Jamal Benomar's trip to the region?
Spokesman: I… the readout I had is what I just shared with you that, you know, I think he had constructive meetings with his counterparts in Bujumbura, whether it was the Government, opposition. Obviously, I think he met with civil society, as well. He's now in Tanzania to meet with Mr. Mkapa. It's a process that will take some time. I think Mr. Benomar's very much focussed on the task at hand. On your…
Question: Mass graves.
Spokesman: Oh, the mass graves. Sorry. I will check with my colleagues in the Office of Human Rights, because as far as I'm… as far as I know, they're still operating in the country.
Question: Because I guess my… my question is this continued use of the word "constructive". I’m not assuming… Maybe you don't want to condemn, but any of the NGO's [non-governmental organizations] that were disaccredited been reaccredited? There's been… was there any, I guess, movement by the Government on the various issues?
Spokesman: I think… you know, if we'd had the possibility for immediate movement and success in Burundi, we've had it a while ago. It's a very complicated situation. I think it's a good sign that the Government met with Mr. Benomar. The issue of the NGOs was raised with his counterparts and the people he met. And I think we expressed our concern at the delisting of NGOs, as well as the harassment being faced by the media, and we will continue to do so.
Question: Okay. And does the UN… I mean, there's been a lot of coverage of the death of the fish seller, Mr. [Mouhcine] Fikri, in Morocco and a lot… there have been nationwide protests. I know that the Secretary‑General is going there soon. So I'm wondering, what does he think? Many people are drawing an analogy to the… to the… to the death of the vendor in Tunisia that sparked the Arab Spring in 2010. How does… what does he think of the Government's response? What sort of… what's his view of this as he heads to the country?
Spokesman: I don't have anything in particular to share with you at this point on Morocco. We're obviously keeping an eye on the situation, and we will… I think we'll let others do the compare‑and‑contrast. As I said, the visit will… at this point, will be focused on COP. The bilateral part of the visit, we'll have a bit more to announce later. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Recently, Mr. [Mahmoud] Abbas, the Palestinian President, had met with the two senior leaders of Hamas in Doha, Qatar, for unity talks. Does the SG have any opinion on that or his Special Envoy in the occupied Palestinian territory?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General and his Special Envoy, whether directly or through briefings to the Security Council, have always pushed and promoted national unity among Palestinian political parties. We think it is one of the issues blocking a more positive path for the Palestinian people. And this is something the Secretary‑General has underscored the importance of for many months now.
Question: And also, yesterday, Sunday, and all of today, Monday, Israel had closed the West Bank completely because of a Jewish holiday. Every time there is a Jewish holiday, Israel imposes complete closure on the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Is there any opinion on that, as well?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General has… and his Special Envoy have always pushed to ensure that there [are] as few closures as possible to allow for the free movement of Palestinians. Yes, Zach?
Question: Is the Secretary‑General aware of the report from Human Rights Watch about the victims of Boko Haram also being sexually abused by police and soldiers in Nigeria and any reaction to that?
Spokesman: The situation in northwest Nigeria is one that we have been, I think, trying to focus the world's attention on for quite some time through the Secretary‑General's own work, through the work of the UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] and the UN team in general in Nigeria. We're obviously concerned at any such reporting, and I think one of the important messages that we've underscored here is in the fight against extremist groups, like Boko Haram, where there's clearly a need for a security component, it's important that none of these operations, anti‑extremist operations, are conducted in a way that lead to further human rights violations, that people's right… when you are liberating villages and districts that have been under the yoke of extremist groups like Boko Haram or we've seen it with Da’esh in Iraq and in Syria, it's important that the population that's already suffered tremendously doesn't suffer yet again. So we would encourage the Government of Nigeria to thoroughly investigate any of these reports. Yes, Luke?
Question: Thanks. I hate to backtrack to last week's readouts, but indulge me, if you could. There was this big…
Spokesman: As long as you don't talk about Wonder Woman, I'll indulge you.
Question: No, no, don't worry. There was this big IMO [International Maritime Organization] meeting on shipping emissions, and you had a readout on Friday sort of praising the sulphur regulations that were agreed to. But as you know, the overall emissions were sort of punted a few years down the road. Am I right to read a little frustration on the SG's part about… that there's a line saying he welcomes the steps but calls for more action on emissions? That was hoped to be one of the…
Spokesman: I think that's diplomatic talk for exactly the sentiment that you expressed. Obviously, shipping… transport, whether it's shipping and air, is such a huge part of combating emissions and combatting climate change. I think we, obviously, would have liked to have seen a bit more action a little closer to now. Okay. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask, given the… the… the focus of the UN system on refugees… the refugee crisis, if it has any view on Australia Prime Minister proposing a lifetime ban on those who seek to reach Australia by boat. He's proposed that even if they're granted refugee status and settled in a third country that they be forever barred from entering Australia, and people say this would violate the Refugees Convention. So, what's the…
Spokesman: I haven't seen the detailed proposal. What is clear is that every country that has signed on to the Convention on the Rights of Refugees from 1951‑'52 has an obligation to uphold those rights. The current refugee crisis is one that demands global solidarity that every country, wherever they are, needs to play its part and needs to treat refugees with the given rights that they have and migrants with the human dignity that they deserve.
Question: Okay. And this might be riding your wheelhouse as well. Have… has… has the UN system taken note of the continued arrests of journalists in Turkey? There have been 13 more arrested apparent… they're charged with legitimizing the failed coup. These are pretty mainstream publications. And so what… I guess what's… what's the discussion or engagement between the UN system and Turkey as more and more journalists are being arrested?
Spokesman: No, we're obviously watching the situation. I think in the past, the Secretary‑General has called for the media to be able to operate freely in Turkey.
Question: And can I ask just one thing? I wanted to ask you this. There's… and you may be aware of it, or you may soon be aware of it, but the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) took issue with Ban Ki‑moon's report on the capital master plan, saying that he's… in accepting a gift from the International Olympics Committee violated… that this requires GA (General Assembly) approval and also violates past commitments that were made during the Capital Master Plan. So they… they're pretty critical of it, and I'm just wondering, what is the response of the Secretariat? Is ACABQ wrong, or why did the Secretary‑General proceed in this way?
Spokesman: I'll take a look at the ACABQ report. I didn't have a chance to see it this morning. Zach?
Question: On the ICC, what is the Secretary‑General doing to try to restore confidence in the ICC given its role of several African countries…
Spokesman: I think… as we've said, it's important… we understand that there are concerns within especially African countries as a focus of the ICC's work. We would hope that those concerns be addressed within the Conference of States Parties and not immediately for people moving to withdraw from the ICC. I think the Secretary‑General would also encourage ICC officials to talk to those countries concerned, whether it's South Africa and others, to hear them out, to hear what their legitimate concerns are. The ICC is such a critical pillar in the architecture of international justice that we've built over the past decades. The Secretary‑General would want to see anything that can do… to strengthen it and not to weaken it. But, obviously, people have concern… you know, governments have concerns. Those are legitimate concerns. They need to be heard, whether it's within the Conference of States Parties or bilaterally, directly between the ICC leadership and those countries. And that's a message he would deliver to both ICC officials and to those countries that have expressed a wish to leave the current structure. Luke?
Question: I… it's been observed that one of the problems… or one of the potential causes for this African bias among ICC prosecutions is a lack of Security Council referrals of other cases. Does the SG realize that could be contributing to this…
Spokesman: As I said, the concerns are very legitimate. Governments have concerns. We would hope that the… however, the reaction is not one to leave the ICC but see how… ways to strengthen it and to work within the existing structures. The Secretary‑General, for one, has been calling for the situation in the… in Syria to be referred to the ICC. It called on the Security Council to do so. The Council has not yet done so, and that's… it's a statement of fact. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Like Luke, I prefer not to go back to last week, but I wanted… one was pretty easy. One had to do with the… just the offsets, the carbon offsets, that the Secretary‑General mentioned in his speech at Columbia. Is it possible to get…
Spokesman: Yes, I owe you an answer on that.
Question: And how about the speech? I know… you've said a couple times it's possible to get a list of the, quote, private events that the Secretary‑General has spoken at where funds have been raised, but will it actually be done?
Spokesman: You know, we have… he had an event in Geneva, which I think was an off‑the‑record lunch. We can see what we can compile for you.
Question: But like the… the Council on Korean‑Americans, it wasn't off the record. It was reported in the Korean media. So this is why I didn't understand it being called private. Like, it was in a big hall. Press was there. So all other such speeches, it seems to me, are released. Why not that one?
Spokesman: I'll see what we can do.
Question: And finally, do you have any… you won't, but I'm going to ask you anyway. Do you have any… does he have any view of the growing situation in South Korea, in which the President is accused of letting her speeches be written by a long‑time mentor…
Spokesman: No, we have absolutely no comment on the current situation.
Question: Any view? Any feeling about it? Do you see any impasse…
Spokesman: No comment. I hear and I read, but we have no comment. I will get our guest, and we'll be right back.