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.
As you will have seen over the weekend, we issued a statement expressing the Secretary-General’s sadness upon learning of the death of Fidel Castro Ruz, former President of Cuba. President Fidel Castro will be remembered for his leadership of the Cuban revolution and for advances in Cuba in the fields of education, literacy and health. His revolutionary ideals left few indifferent.
And the Secretary-General went on to add that he hopes that Cuba will continue to advance on a path of reform, greater prosperity and human rights. At this time of national mourning, he offers the support of the United Nations to work alongside the Cuban people.
And the Secretary-General is indeed back in New York City after speaking on Saturday at the Global Sustainable Transport Conference in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. He told the participants that sustainable transport has to answer to the needs of those who have the least. When it does, it can bridge more than physical distances; it can bring closer the human family.
In welcoming remarks at the conference, he noted that the Paris Agreement on climate change has entered into force years before anyone would have thought possible. Now, he said, our challenge is implementation. Sustainable transport can help get us there; but, he added, on the road to progress, we need to flash a red light to stop business as usual. And we need to flash a green light to wise investments in innovative technologies that reduce fossil fuel consumption and boost energy efficiency.
Speaking to the press in Ashgabat, the Secretary-General noted that the protection of human rights is a fundamental requirement for progress. This is the moral obligation of all governments — and it is the surest way to empower people to build lasting peace and prosperity. His remarks are online.
And turning to Syria, the UN is extremely concerned by reports of intensified fighting and indiscriminate aerial bombardment on eastern Aleppo city during the last few days, which reportedly killed and injured many civilians and triggered the displacement of thousands in western Aleppo, within eastern Aleppo and to the north to Sheikh Maqsoud. The situation remains highly volatile and fluid.
Eastern Aleppo, where an estimated 275,000 people live under horrific conditions and in desperate need of assistance, has remained inaccessible to humanitarian workers since early July 2016. The last remaining WFP (World Food Programme) rations ran out on 13 November and supplies from other partners are close to being depleted, effectively leaving eastern Aleppo city without food.
The UN and partners stand ready to respond to the needs of internally displaced people through whichever modality is more appropriate, including cross-line and cross-border operations. We urge all parties to the conflict to put an end to the indiscriminate bombing and shelling, to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, and to enable life-saving humanitarian assistance, as required under international humanitarian and human right law.
The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, met separately this morning with the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities.
Speaking to the media after his meetings, the Special Adviser said that both leaders had expressed a continued desire to find a way to solve the Cyprus problem.
He noted that the leaders’ second meeting last month in Mont Pèlerin, Switzerland, had been a setback to a process and that there was a need to find a way to overcome it.
He said that the United Nations would try to help develop ideas, but that it was up to the leaders to make the decision to return to the table and to orchestrate the coming weeks in order not to lose the momentum of the talks.
And the peacekeeping mission in South Sudan reports that it has observed Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) troops firing on Opposition troops at the Nassir airstrip in Upper Nile and heard SPLA troops firing rocket-propelled grenades towards Opposition positions in Kedbek. The UN peacekeeping mission (UNMISS) was also informed by Opposition troops that the SPLA took control of Dablual in Unity following clashes in the area on 23 and 24 November.
The mission also reports that a large number of militia have been moving into the Equatorias in support of a planned Government offensive. In light of the warnings that we have received regarding the potential for genocide in South Sudan from the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, it is essential that all parties cease hostilities and any planned offensives. We will continue to monitor developments very closely and ensure that the Security Council is made aware of any ongoing or imminent violence that could harm civilians and further derail the prospect for peace in South Sudan.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, from there rather, our colleagues in the UN peacekeeping mission in that country (MONUSCO) yesterday condemned the attack against internally displaced people that took place in Luhanga, North Kivu.
Around 50 combatants of an armed group known as Mayi-Mayi Mazembe attacked over 1000 families of Hutu origin, killing at least 21 civilians. In response, UN peacekeepers who were in the vicinity of the camp immediately deployed and engaged the armed group, repelling the attack.
UN troops assisted the wounded and evacuated 15 injured to a hospital in Goma. MONUSCO has also deployed reinforcements to the area, as well as a fact-finding team, in close coordination with the Congolese army.
**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
The UN Resident Coordinator in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Tapan Mishra, has taken part in a joint mission with the Government and humanitarian agencies in the country to visit some of the areas hardest hit by devastating floods three months ago.
Nearly 12,000 families in the North Hamgyong province whose homes were destroyed have since moved into hew homes.
International organizations have been providing food, shelter, medicine, and water and sanitation relief, among other items.
In response to a special request by the Government, some agencies have also contributed to roofing for the new homes and public institutions such as nurseries, kindergartens, schools, health clinics and hospitals. And you can read more about Mr. Misra’s participation in this trip online.
And a couple things to flag for tomorrow — tomorrow will be the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People and, in a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General says that the Israeli and Palestinian leaders still voice their support for the two-State solution. However, without urgent steps to revive a political perspective, they risk entrenching a one-state reality.
The Deputy Secretary-General will speak at an event marking the International Day tomorrow, and we will have his remarks available then.
**New York Academy of Sciences
And tomorrow, the Secretary-General will speak at an event organized at the New York Academy of Sciences on the role of science in support of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs}, including climate change. That will take place off campus. And we will check the media coverage details for you and let you know.
And the senior appointment — the Secretary-General is announcing today the appointment of Olufemi Elias of Nigeria as the Registrar of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, with effect as of 1 January 2017.
Mr. Elias will succeed John Hocking of Australia, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his service, including his instrumental role in setting up the Mechanism and overseeing the construction of its new premises in Arusha.
And, Mr. Elias has been serving as the Executive Secretary of the World Bank Administrative Tribunal since July of this year, a position which he also held from 2008 to 2013. We have more information in a note of biographical information.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Steph. On Aleppo, Eastern Aleppo, can you share with us any plans the UN is preparing for the people who are running away from the violence in Eastern Aleppo, including in the areas where the Government is in control?
Spokesman: Obviously, in whichever area, the UN stands ready, within the confines of the ongoing fighting, to assist the humanitarian population, whether it’s in Government‑controlled areas or non‑Government‑controlled areas. The critical issue is that the fighting is continuing, which is hampering our humanitarian work and which is obviously increasing to the already indescribable suffering of the population within Aleppo. I think, as we’ve said, Aleppo is now basically a city… eastern parts of Aleppo are basically a city without food. We haven’t been able to get in there and… as have other humanitarian organisations. Stefano?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Again, on the death of former President of Cuba, Fidel Castro, for… for sure, we know that he will not have been in power for so long… his regime will have not been in power for so long if the good things… the good stuff that you mention he did for the people of Cuba will not have happened. But, at the same times, at what price? So my question is, of the many several things that didn’t work in all those years in Cuba — one, for example, freedom of expression — Cuba… Cuba was one of the worst country in the last, we can say, 50 years. So what does Secretary‑General… I mean, to… at least as a message to not repeat the mistakes of, for example, Fidel Castro? What he has to say about that? Thank you.
Spokesman: I think, if you look at the Secretary‑General’s statement, it’s clear that, looking forward, he hopes that Cuba will continue on the path of reform we’ve seen in recent years, including on the issue of human rights. I think no one is turning a blind eye to the issues of human rights that have been faced in Cuba. The UN’s human rights mechanisms over the years have made their position clear, and I think the Secretary‑General very much hopes that the current leadership in Cuba will continue on this path of reform, which includes human rights. Sherwin and then Mr. Lee?
Question: Just to sort of follow up on that, Steph, in terms of what we’ve been hearing out of the transition… transitioning administration under President‑elect Donald Trump, that they are considering pushing back on some of the re… reforms, the rapprochement like we’ve seen under the Obama Administration, something that was welcomed by the Secretary‑General. What are your thoughts? Also, what are his thoughts on that?
Spokesman: The agreements that we’ve seen in recent years and very recently between the US and Cuba on the rapprochement, on the increased trade, and the openness of the relationship was welcomed by the UN. We continue to welcome it. I think it’s a critical relationship in the Western Hemisphere. The rapprochement is clearly a positive move in the sense of clearing up what had been, to say the least, a very complicated relationship between US and Cuba. I’m not going to comment on what the incoming administration may or may not do. I think we’ll take it one administration at a time. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I have some questions on Burundi, many of which I sent to your office on Friday and were not answered. One has to do with this note verbale between the UN and the Government of Burundi, where it says that nine officials are not to be deployed, but says that the rest of the things can be deployed but will be subject to the full cooperation of the Government of Burundi with the UN system. And, as you know, on Saturday, there was a protest in Burundi at which the… the… the… it was mandatory to attend the protest if you’re a Government official, and the UN has been accused by the chairman of the ruling party of having distributed weapons in connection with what they say is a plot against them. So I wanted to know couple of things. Also… finally, I just want to get your answer to this. There’s a French company called OMP Solutions, which is online saying it sold uniforms and provided services for pay in connection with the Burundian deployment. So I wanted to know how many UN Missions this French company… they’re very aggress… they’re promoting it, and many in Burundi now allege that the fact that the head of peacekeeping is from France and that this company is openly selling services only to Francophone Africa deployments creates a conflict of interest. So those were the questions.
Spokesman: I don’t know about the company. We can try to find out. You can look on the procurement website to see if they do any business with the UN. As far as any link between… conflict of interests between the fact that the head of peacekeeping may be… is French and that the company may be French, I think, is completely out of the question.
Question: My question is…
Spokesman: Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous is an international civil servant. There are a lot of the companies that do business with the UN where its nationals are also there. To me that’s a non‑issue. On the… we’ve seen these reports of accusing the UN of participating in weapons trafficking. I can tell you that we, obviously, categorically deny any allegations of weapons trafficking in Burundi, which are untrue, without basis, and extremely dangerous. The UN has been working to support the Burundian people, with extensive humanitarian development efforts, and has also been supporting efforts to find a political solution to the crisis in Burundi.
Question: One follow-up on that. The reason for the follow‑up is… is this, is that the letter… this note verbale, which was never announced from your platform, but we… Inner City Press obtained it and published it on Wednesday, said… it goes against what the Panel of Experts propose, which was to not use Burundian peacekeepers anymore be… due to the human rights issues. And so, clearly, somebody… and I’d like… I think you should be able to announce… to say this. Who overrode the human rights, given Rights Up Front and other things, who made the decision to continue the deployment?
Spokesman: Let me take a look. I haven’t seen the note verbale. Let me take a look at it. Abdelhamid? Sorry.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. In reference to the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, there will be an embroidery exhibit in the evening, and it was hopeful that it will be mentioned in your remarks. But my question, would the SG… since he going to miss the meeting in the Trusteeship Council, would he attend the opening of the embroidery exhibit in the evening?
Spokesman: I don’t know. I can find out.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Question: Thank you, Steph. A question regarding Cuba: Who from the United Nations is expected to represent the UN at the funeral…?
Spokesman: My understanding it would likely be the Resident Coordinator, which is sort of standard protocol. If that’s any different, I’ll let you know. The Secretary‑General… I mean, no one from New York will be attending. The Secretary‑General will not be attending. I was asked quite a bit of times… few times over the weekend. I just want to confirm that more publicly.
Question: Just a quick follow‑up. Thank you. Has the SG been in touch or expects to be in touch with Raúl Castro, perhaps, regarding UN rights abuses and violations in Cuba?
Spokesman: I… if there is a contact, I will share that with you. Emoke and then Masood? Hold on. We’ll go to Emoke first and then Masood. Thank you.
Question: Thanks, Steph. There is a report out from the Council on Foreign Relations today, where the author calls for the establishment of an AU/UN‑led International Transitional Administration for South Sudan. Is this something that the Secretary‑General would support or even call for, in light of the warnings of potential genocide in the country?
Spokesman: You know, I… to be honest with you, I have not seen that report. I think… so let me take a look at it before we comment on it. Masood?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On this Indian‑Pakistan tensions at the border, where people are being killed every day, however, it seems that the Indian Prime Minister, Mr. [Narendra] Modi, has introduced the element of water usage, which is… Pakistan and India have a treaty since 1950, how to use the water. But he’s suggesting that maybe the treaty has to renegotiate or something. And the Pakistani ambassador has spoken about it in the Security Council meeting, on sharing water and everything. So how does the Secretary‑General see this, and how does he think that this situation could be resolved?
Spokesman: I would, first of all, refer you to the statement we recently put out on the increasing tensions over the Line… on the Line of Control, which are of great concern to the Secretary‑General. I will take a look at the issue on water. Obviously, we hope it’s something that the two parties can resolve themselves. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you. In reference to the fire raging in Israel for a number of days now, there are many calls by senior officials and unofficials to go and burn Arab villages. One person was arrested in Israel, and he was let go in 24 hours, but this campaign of incitement is getting out of hand. Does the SG have… or his envoy have any point on this?
Spokesman: Obviously, we’re following with concerns the fires that have been raging in the area. I think there has been international support to put them out, which is important. We hope that they are fully investigated. I haven’t seen the particular comments you’re referring to, but as a matter of principle, I think the Secretary‑General has also… always criticised any calls to incitement. Sherwin?
Question: Going back to the Cuba issue, I know you said you’ll take one Administration at a time, but I also think you can’t have it both ways. The General Assembly overwhelmingly voted for the embargo to be lifted. We’re hearing from the transition team that, you know, this might not happen in the short term. They might close the embassy. They might roll back some of the achievements under the Obama Administration. What would the United Nations like to see? I mean, if you’re welcoming the actions of the Obama Administration, surely, that means you then do not welcome what the Trump Administration might do.
Spokesman: First of all, I always claim that I can have it both ways. [Laughter] That’s a matter of principle on my end. Yes?
Question: But we’re not at home now.
Spokesman: Exactly. Exactly. [Laughter] Sorry. [Laughter] You know, obviously, the Secretary‑General would hope that rapprochement would continue, as he would between any nations. As we’ve seen it in the past… whether it’s between Iran and the United States, between the US and Cuba, whether it’s between Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, where the Secretary‑General oversaw the signing of an important joint declaration. Dialogue and openness is always the better option as far as the United Nations is concerned. Yes, sir?
Question: On this… Secretary‑General… on climate accord, which he kept on saying just now in… that, ultimately, it’s the implementation to bridge matters. So in the implementation, does he… will the United Nations leave the accord implementation to the countries basically how to do it, or is there going to be international monitor?
Spokesman: Well, you know, the accord is… the Secretariat for the accord, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), will be helping and working with countries on implementation as far as they need support. There is, of course, monitoring and reporting that will be done through the UNFCCC and the UN system as a whole is invested in the implementation of the climate agreement. But, obviously, the responsibility lies with each and every signatory to the accord. Fathi. Sorry. I thought I’d given you the floor. Go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Just a follow‑up on… since Sherwin brought it up, any updates on the Secretary‑General meeting with the President‑elect Donald Trump?
Question: Is it going to happen?
Spokesman: I don’t… I mean, as soon as I have an update, I will share it with you. Mr. Lee, Stefano, and then Abdelhamid.
Question: Sure. I want to ask you about Yemen, but I want to be sure to ask you something that, again, was submitted Friday without answer. So I want to ask you, on the brother of Ban Ki‑moon, Mr. Ban… Ban Ki‑ho and KD Power Company, have now found… there’s a letter. They joined the Global Compact, and the signature… signatory for KD Power was Ban Ki‑ho. They’ve been expelled from the Global Compact as of 21 September 2015. So given what the Secretary‑General has said about the… the… the Global Compact, does he find anything ironic that his own… his brother’s company for which he signed a letter has been expelled? And, two, the brother… you’d said… Farhan [Haq], in your absence, said ask these questions about the mining in Myanmar and the UN delegation to the companies. I’ve now written to the email address that’s on the brother’s thing, and there’s no response.
Spokesman: My understanding is that the Secretary‑General’s brother no longer works for the company. I think the Secretary‑General would expect the Global Compact to enforce its rules in the same manner with every company, whether his brother may… had worked for the company or had not. I think that’s… I think the Secretary‑General welcomes the Global Compact’s conducting of its… and enforcing of its rules and regulations blindly.
Question: Given… given the still unresolved issue of… while he was engaged in mining in Myanmar, his mentioning by a government website as being a part of a UN delegation in the country, I’d like to ask you, just factually, when’s the last time Ban Ki‑moon spoke with his brother?
Spokesman: I have no clue. Abdelhamid?
Question: Yes, Stéphane, you mentioned before that there will be a press conference with the Secretary‑General before the end of the year. Do you have any approximate date or…? [Inaudible]
Spokesman: Yes, I believe it will be scheduled for about 11:30 on 15 December, on Thursday… if that’s a Thursday, and if this Thursday is 15 December, that’s the day it will be scheduled. Stefano. Sir, yeah?
Question: Yes. Thank you. Again, about Myanmar…
Spokesman: Okay. You know what? Don’t believe what I say. Believe what I write. I’ll send out an e-mail.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Again, about Myanmar, I mean, we know how the situation is getting worse. I… UN is very concerned. They… now there is the talk of… clearly of ethnic cleansing, genocide. The Secretary‑General in August was very clear in… in saying to the Myanmar Government that the world was concerned, that there is a situation there that has to change. Looks like this situation didn’t change. Actually, it’s getting worse. So what are the next concrete move that the Secretary‑General is going to do to make the world even more concerned?
Spokesman: The… I think the… that message continues to be passed on to the Government of Myanmar through various channels. As you know, the Humanitarian Coordinator, Resident Coordinator participated in a visit to Rakhine State. She reported back on what she saw. We continue to call for an independent investigation into what happened in Rakhine States: the horrific reports of rape, of houses and vill… and houses being burnt. I also know the efforts by the former Secretary‑General, Kofi Annan, are continuing. And we support those. But the humanitarian situation in Rakhine State continues to suffer. We have limited access to the area. Some basic limited services have resumed in Rakhine State for Rohingyas and other IDPs (internally displaced people). From 21 to 23 November, WFP distributed food and cash assistance to about 11,000 most vulnerable people. However, the majority of humanitarian activities are yet to restart in areas where military operations are ongoing, and we remain concerned for about 132,000 vulnerable people who have yet to receive any food, cash assistance or any other form of nutrition. We continue to be engaged with the Government of Myanmar on these issues. Mr. Lee and then Linda? And I can confirm, because Farhan knows best, the press conference will be 11:30 on 15 December. Okay. Whatever day of the week that is. Okay.
Question: Sure. I want to ask about Yemen and the Ng Lap Seng case and the superseding indictment. In Yemen, there have been various reports that the envoy is now starting a new round where you’ll actually meet with President [Abd Rabbuh Mansur] Hadi in Muscat. Is that your understanding? And what is… what’s different about the proposal he’s putting forward now to the one that was rejected two weeks ago?
Spokesman: You know, obviously, proposals are adjusted constantly to try to meet the agreement of both parties, based on universal… on principles that the UN can agree on. I’m not going to get into the minutiae of what he’s changing, what he’s not changing. Obviously, the envoy’s not giving up, and he’s continuing to go about his work trying to get the parties back to the table.
Question: Okay. And I wanted to ask, in the… in the… what was once called the John Ashe case, is now the Ng Lap Seng case, a superseding indictment was filed last week, which, at least as regards to the UN, says that this South‑South News entity paid one of the two individuals charged with bribery at the UN in cash to evade… to evade taxes. This is part of the… there’s other things in it. But since you’ve said that you’re following the case closely, what is the UN or OLA [Office of Legal Affairs]’s response to this new indictment? And can you answer a question that I sent to you on Friday? One of the UN officials name… named in their official capacity in the OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] audit, is it fair… do you consider it fair to ask whether travel to various places is, in fact, paid by the UN or not paid by the UN, and if so, can you answer the question that was submitted to your office and… and Farhan and…
Spokesman: You know, every… if a trip… I don’t recall the question. I know you sent it. I just don’t remember off the…
Question: So if the SG goes to get a personal award in Catalonia, is this… is… can this be paid by the UN, or is it not paid by the UN?
Spokesman: I’m not aware of the particular case… [Cross talk]
Question: Send you the link.
Spokesman: Obviously, there is… there are rules and regulations which are followed. Ms. Fasulo?
Question: Thank you, Steph. I just have sort of a technical personnel kind of issue. You announced that the SG made an appointment of a new registrar for the criminal tribunals, effective 1 January. I was just wondering, is there some kind of UN policy regarding the appointment of representatives or personnel by an outgoing Secretary‑General? You know, is there a length of time or…
Spokesman: No, there’s no regulation that I know of. Obviously, there’s one Secretary‑General at a time, and that person continues to have the authority until the end of the year. As a matter of course, during the transition, there will… there is… when there is a need to appoint someone, there is consultations with the incoming team, so that no one is surprised. If an appointment can wait, in most likelihood, it will wait until the incoming administration. Yeah?
Question: Just on Uganda, there’s been some pretty publicized fighting between the Government and a… I guess, a pre‑national border kingdom in the country. Fifty-five people dead. A journalist arrested. And I wanted to know whether the UN has… has… has anything to say about that, if the Resident Coordinator’s gotten involved. And, separately, but I forgot to ask you this on Burundi, there’s reports of a letter from the… the opposition, CNARED and others, the Rassamblement de Democrat Burundi, to Ban Ki‑moon asking for a UN mediator to replace President [Yoweri] Museveni of Uganda as saying that this has led nowhere.
Spokesman: I’ll check. I have not seen the letter, and I don’t have anything on Uganda. Thank you.