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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, everyone.
The Secretary-General spoke at the General Assembly’s meeting this morning commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
The Secretary-General said we are living in an increasingly intolerant and ever-more divided world, with discrimination and violence on the rise. He expressed concern that migrants have become convenient scapegoats and that, far too often, hate speech, stereotyping and stigmatization are becoming normalized.
He urged the international community to work even harder to close divisions, combat intolerance and protect human rights.
The Secretary-General paid tribute to Russia’s late Permanent Representative, Vitaly Churkin, during a General Assembly meeting this morning in honour of Ambassador Churkin, who passed away last month on the eve of his sixty-fifth birthday.
In his remarks, the Secretary-General said that although he had only worked with Ambassador Churkin for a short time, it was clear the Russian diplomat was “an unmistakable voice — as witty as he was passionate in defending Russia’s interests, while advocating for a strong United Nations”.
He went on to call Ambassador Churkin an outstanding diplomat, a man of many talents and interests, and a human being whose friendship touched many lives.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Maman Sidikou, is briefing the Security Council this morning on the Secretary-General’s most recent report.
He said that he had requested that MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] protection of civilians’ strategy be revised to address the threat to the civilian population from armed groups in Eastern DRC, the spreading ethnic and militia violence in new areas of concern, and possible electoral violence in urban areas.
The report of the Secretary-General also sets out a package of measures aimed at enhancing the ability of the MONUSCO Force in the current challenging security context through the adoption of a more mobile, flexible and agile posture.
We expect Mr. Sidikou to speak at the stakeout following consultations.
**Central African Republic
We have an update from the Central African Republic. The UN Mission there, known as MINUSCA, reports that it continues to support the restoration of State authority and security in the town of Bambari in Ouaka prefecture.
Yesterday, UN peacekeepers escorted a convoy of 30 national gendarmes to join another 36 who arrived in the town earlier in the month. The UN Mission also facilitated the deployment of a prison warden to Bambari yesterday as well as corrections and security officers to expedite the resumption of prison services.
Meanwhile, armed groups continued to undertake aggressive actions on some of the road axes around Bambari and there have been reports of clashes in a number of localities over the past week.
The Mission also reports clashes between the Mouvement Patriotique pour la Centrafrique (MPC)/Révolution et Justice (RJ) coalition and local self-defence groups in Elevage, Bavara and Tadamou villages in Ouham-Pende prefecture. The UN Mission, in line with its protection of civilians’ mandate, is dispatching a patrol to the areas to prevent further clashes.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is concerned by continuing forced return of hundreds of refugees from Cameroon’s far north region to north-eastern Nigeria despite the recent signing of the tripartite agreement aimed at ensuring the voluntary nature of returns.
So far this year, Cameroon has forcefully returned over 2,600 refugees back to Nigerian border villages against their will.
Inside Nigeria, UNHCR teams have heard and documented accounts about Cameroonian troops returning refugees against their will without allowing them time to collect their belongings.
While acknowledging the generosity of the Government of Cameroon and local communities who host over 85,000 Nigerian refugees, UNHCR calls on the Government to honour its obligations under international and regional refugee protection instruments, as well as Cameroonian law.
The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, has told the President of South Sudan that it is clearer than ever that the problems the country faces must be solved through political rather than military means. Mr. Ladsous met President Salva Kiir on Tuesday, the second day of his two-day trip to the country, and said the President had agreed with his assessment.
Speaking to the media later in the day, Mr Ladsous said the UN was sparing no effort to speed up the deployment of the 4,000 extra troops of the Regional Protection Force mandated by the Security Council.
The first peacekeepers from Rwanda, Nepal and Bangladesh will begin arriving in the next few weeks.
Mr Ladsous, who is stepping down as the head of UN peacekeeping at the end of the month, was joined in South Sudan by the Under-Secretary-General designate, Jean-Pierre Lacroix.
And I was asked yesterday about the crash-landing of a commercial plane at Wau airport in the north-west of South Sudan.
According to the UN Mission in the country (UNMISS), the plane, an Antonov 26 belonging to the South Sudan Supreme Company, was flying from Juba to Wau. It crashed at 3:40 p.m. on Monday afternoon and immediately caught fire. Forty-three passengers were said to be on board. UNMISS attended the scene with firefighting equipment and medical staff. Peacekeepers worked alongside local emergency personnel in a combined effort.
The UN Mission stands ready to assist the people of Wau.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, strongly condemned the terrorist bombing in Baghdad’s southwestern al-Amil district yesterday, in which scores of civilians were reported killed or injured.
He said that this cowardly crime adds to Da’esh’s atrocious record of targeting civilians in a futile campaign intended to inflict as many casualties as possible to cause pain on the people, just as the terrorists are being routed on the battlefront.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO), with logistic support from the World Food Programme (WFP), has airlifted 15 fully equipped ambulances to Iraq in order to strengthen the response to the increasing trauma and medical-related emergencies in west Mosul. These ambulances will enhance trauma care at the frontlines and ensure timely referral to field hospitals.
**Human Development Report
Although there has been impressive progress in human development, millions continue to be left behind and there needs to be a stronger focus on dismantling barriers such as discrimination and unequal political participation.
That’s according to the latest Human Development Report by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), which was released today in Stockholm, Sweden.
The report finds one in three people around the world continue to live in low levels of human development, as measured by the Human Development Index.
UNDP Administrator Helen Clark said that the world has come a long way in rolling back extreme poverty, in improving access to education and health, and in expanding possibilities for women and girls.
But she stressed that those gains are a prelude to the next, possibly tougher challenge to ensure that the benefits of global progress reach everyone. You can read the full report online.
Today, I have the honour of thanking Bhutan and Mauritius for their full payments to the regular budget. Their contributions take the Honour Roll to 63.
**Questions and Answers
That’s it for me. Are there any questions? Yes, Raed?
Question: Thanks, Farhan. There’s some articles… well, there’s an article in AFP quoting you saying that the UN has rejected the Coalition’s request for the UN to supervise the port of Hudaydah in Yemen. Is this accurate? And, if yes, can you tell us a little bit more about the decision and what the constraints are?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, what I said is the following, and I’m just going to repeat to you what I told to AFP, and you can judge for yourself what it stands for. Yemen is almost entirely dependent on the import of food and other commodities. In view of the growing food insecurity and a possible famine, with two thirds of the population already food insecure, it is essential that all parties to the conflict facilitate unhindered access to Yemen’s ports for humanitarian and commercial cargo, including Hudaydah port, which serves 70 per cent of Yemen’s affected population. Parties to the conflict have a clear responsibility to protect civilian infrastructure and fundamentally to protect civilians. These are not obligations they can shift to others. The humanitarian community delivers assistance in Yemen solely based on needs and not on political considerations and will continue to do so through all available means.
Question: Can I follow up?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah.
Question: Does that have to do with your concerns over the security situation there and how it would impact your own staff?
Deputy Spokesman: Ultimately, like I just said, parties to the conflict themselves have a clear responsibility to protect civilian infrastructure and to protect civilians. Those are obligations we believe cannot be shifted to others. Yes, Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you. Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov recently issued a statement condemning rocket attack by activists from Gaza into southern Israel. However, Israel recently attacked Syria. And, since his responsibilities include all the Middle East region, because he’s the coordinator for the peace process, why he didn’t issue a statement condemning Israel for attacking Syria?
Deputy Spokesman: We are, of course, examining these matters, including the latest reports. We would be concerned about any fighting in Syria, but as you know, Syria is a separate matter outside of the brief of Mr Mladenov. He does… as you know, when he has to brief on the Middle East, many times, he leaves the situation in Syria aside to the work of the Special Envoy for Syria, who’s a different person, Staffan de Mistura.
Question: But that is regarding the internal strife in Syria; de Mistura is responsible for what’s going on inside Syria. Mladenov, among his responsibilities, to report about the peace process — that include Syria and Lebanon. Right?
Deputy Spokesman: His… to the extent that he’s talking about the peace process, it is primarily… his primary focus is on the Israeli‑Palestinian peace process, and that is where his focus lies. The focus for the war in Syria is in the hands of Mr de Mistura. Yes?
Question: Sure. Sure. I want to ask about Cyprus and then three human rights defenders. Is it… is it the case that the Secretary‑General will be meeting with the President of Cyprus tomorrow? And, if so, when’s his plan to meet with the head of the Turkish Cypriot community?
Deputy Spokesman: There’s nothing scheduled at this point to announce. If that changes, we’ll let you know.
Question: Upon arriving in the United States, he said he’s meeting with the Secretary‑General tomorrow, Mr. [Nicos] Anastasiades.
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t have anything to announce at this stage. If we add that to the schedule, you’ll know about that at that point. [He later said that the meeting with the President of Cyprus would take place on Wednesday morning.]
Question: Okay. And I wanted to ask you, I’ll do… I guess, you know, these are three separate countries, but it seems to be a… a trend. In Djibouti, the head of the Djiboutian League of Human Rights, Omar Ali Ewado, has been arrested. In the… in the… in the UAE (United Arab Emirates), the same is true of Ahmed Mansoor. And, in Cameroon, a guy called Akéré Muna, who was the… at one time the vice‑chair of Transparency International, has been summoned by the police since the statement that was read here on Friday about how this dialogue is going. So, given that Mr. Muna, in particular, is… is representing those who’ve already been detained by the Government, what is… what are… what… particularly… I believe you read something on Cameroon, and, honestly, I missed what you said as I came in. But what… given that you’ve made a statement saying that there’s a dialogue that Mr. [Francois] Loncény Fall was involved, if there have been many arrests since then and, in fact, the main lawyer for that community is now being arrested, what’s your comment?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, first of all, we need to look into these various reports, but for both of the cases that you mentioned in Djibouti and in Cameroon, we would be concerned about any efforts to hinder the work of human rights defenders. Human rights defenders, wherever they are, need to be able to go about their work without hindrance and without fear of arrest. Yes, Oleg?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. In the wake of the future discussion starting at the UN on the Convention on the total ban of the nuclear weapons, what does the Secretary‑General think of this Convention… of the idea of the concept of this? And is he concerned that two major nuclear powers, both Russia and the US, are vocally speaking against such a Convention?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we certainly hope that the parties themselves, when they show up, will agree on efforts to end the threat posed by nuclear weapons. We welcome the start of any talks, and we hope that all the Member States will deal with each other in good faith. Yes?
Question: Yes, but it seems like both the… the… the two countries I named before, they will not take part in any negotiations. What’s the point is going to be of the convention when the two major Powers are not part of it?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, there’s always a point to starting a process and seeing whether other parties join along as it goes on. As with other processes, we leave these in the hands of the Member States and hope that they can make the progress that they’re looking to do. Yes?
Question: As a practice, the Secretary‑General normally issues a statement thanking any senior official who leaves the United Nations, expressing his appreciations for the services they hin… render for the UN. Would he be issuing a statement expressing his appreciation for the services Rima Khalaf had rendered for the United Nations since the year 2000? She has been a senior staff at UNDP and Executive Secretary of ESCWA (Economic and Social Commission for West Africa).
Question: Yes, we’re well aware of Ms. Khalaf’s work. At the same time, I don’t have anything further to add to what Stéphane [Dujarric] said on this matter on Friday. Yes?
Question: One follow‑up. Has the Secretary‑General received a… communications and separately any request to meet on the… on… on the matter of both the report and the resignation of Rima Khalaf?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe different Member States may have made some communications on that. Regarding meetings, you’ll see his schedule of meetings as we post them.
Question: Okay. And I wanted to ask you, I’d asked in writing but, having gotten no answer, I want to ask you in person, which is, on the 38th Floor, is it possible to get a list of who is now… now that it’s 80‑some… 80 days, I guess, into this Administration, who’s working up there? And I wanted to know in particular a breakdown of who’s paid by the UN, who’s paid by countries, and if — just a yes‑or‑no question. If there is a… any type of fund — some have called it a Lusophone fund; some have called it… said it’s run out of UNOPS [United Nations Office for Project Services] — that, is in fact, paying individuals that work on the 38th Floor. And, if so, are they UN staffers? Is it something else? Can you… I mean, I asked you on Friday in… like, is there a list, and is it possible to get this breakdown simply to understand how it’s being run up there?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t believe that there’s a list by payment. Obviously, we don’t go into the contract details of individual staff members. We could try to get you a list of the people who are part of the Executive Office.
Question: But it’s not… I guess… I want to put it in this context. It’s not a matter of the personal details of the individual. It’s a matter of saying it is… it would be important for the public to know if somebody working on the 38th Floor is, in fact, paid by a country as opposed from the regular budget.
Deputy Spokesman: The financial details of how the Executive Office works, all that is shared with the relevant budgetary committees of the General Assembly, and so they have that information.
Question: So has… has the… has the Executive Office of the Secretary‑General shared information about a Lusophone fund or any fund run by UNOPS that pays individuals on the 38th Floor?
Deputy Spokesman: I’m not aware of any such thing as you’re terming it. As you know, at different times, if people are seconded by Governments or otherwise governments defray arrangements, that information, whether for this Secretary‑General or for previous Secretaries‑General, is shared with the relevant budgetary committees.
Question: Right, but would it be… this is my final thing. Would it be paid directly from a country to its own national or through a fund run by some UN system fund? And, if so, I’m asking for details about that because…
Deputy Spokesman: Again, that is information that gets shared with the budgetary committees. They will have that. Yes?
Question: Two questions. One, I was sitting upstairs on the 4th Floor of the General Assembly, and this was for the Churkin memorial. And there are very few pho… headphones there any longer. There are a few and fort… so, if there are not a lot of the people there using them, you can get them, but… an earphone, but otherwise, you can’t. And so you won’t be able to hear the… the translations unless you bring your own. I thought I raised this once before, and I thought it was going to be looked into, but is it possible that someone can look into that? Because that’s a real problem that the translations are not available. And then there still are the tour groups that come through, and a few of them… they were a little quieter this time than last time, but it was a little disturbing to have them walking through in the part… during a memorial. So I just wondered about that… you know, the process of that happening. There’s other meetings. It would seem no problem of them walking through but… perhaps but… and also, they should be very quiet, so even the guards… the guides shouldn’t be talking while they’re walking through. So those are some things I would appreciate if someone would look into.
Deputy Spokesman: Sure.
Question: Okay. And the second question is, the Women Cross DMZ [demilitarized zone] gave… somebody actually gave the Secretary‑General a letter about asking for some support for their work trying to calm the tensions in the Korean Peninsula, and I’m wondering if the Secretary‑General had some answer to that and so if you could look into it. So it was personally given to the Secretary‑General. And the Security Council had raised the issue of having the Secretary‑General do something to sort of help the situation, and so I’m wondering if the Secretary‑General and the Security Council… you know, if there’s some kind of… of process going on so there can be negotiations. Essentially, there have been very few real efforts at negotiations, it seems, and yet we hear statements from some of the Member States saying negotiations didn’t work when, in fact, there’s been very few efforts at negotiations so rec… in the recent years. So I wondered if that could be looked into and if we could get some response from the Secretary‑General about his… his… using his good offices services towards helping that situation, because it’s very dangerous for the people on the peninsula if there’s no effort at negotiations. Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. And as you’re well aware, of course, what we support is any resumption of the six‑party talks on that. Yes?
Question: Thanks, Farhan. Have you received any more conclusive information from the issue that I raised yesterday regarding General [Khalifa] Haftar’s forces digging up graves and parading with bodies in Qunfudhah, Benghazi?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, the UN Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) is aware of these reports. Obviously, we condemn any disfigurement and mutilation of the sort that has been reported, and we would like to see that this is investigated. Yes?
Question: Sure. Wanted to ask you, if you can, since the Council’s meeting about the Democratic Republic of the Congo, can you say anything about any either progress or efforts being made by the UN in terms of the two missing panel of expert members? And I can’t tell if it’s three or four. I think Stéphane said it was three. And I saw… MONUSCO said it was four Congolese…
Deputy Spokesman: I believe it’s four. It’s four.
Question: So what… can you give some sense… I understand… but… are you searching?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. We’re searching. There’s nothing to report at this stage.
Question: Has this happened ever before? Have members of panel of experts or sanctions investigators gone… been kidnapped or gone missing in this way?
Deputy Spokesman: There have been times when different people have either been kidnapped or gone missing and then we try to find them and get them released. Many times, we’ve been able to… in the past, we’ve been able to get the peaceful release of people who have been detained. We don’t know whether that’s what’s happened in this case.
Question: Sure. And I wanted to ask one other thing about DRC. And it… there was a meeting yesterday afternoon between the… the… I guess first Prime Minister of the DRC and the Secretary‑General and his team. And I have to say, because there was this event called “Gender Champions” afterwards, I did notice, not just on the DRC side but on the Secretary‑General’s side, it was six men. And I just wanted to know, is there some… I heard him say at the Gender Champions that there’s an end to all‑male panels and a lot of things about gender parity. Was this some kind of an oversight? Is it something… did someone who was supposed to attend not attend or what’s your… how would you characterize the makeup of that meeting?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the Secretary‑General has made it very clear he wants to see an end to panels which are just… only male. If there are any problems getting the right mix, people are encouraged to do what they can to get the right mix of panellists. Sometimes, inevitably, whether it’s through absences or whatever, it doesn’t work out that way. But we’re trying to make sure that, as a general practice, that all panels will have some gender balance to them. Yes?
Question: Thanks, Farhan. You just mentioned, according to WHO, that 15 ambulances delivered medical aid in Western Mosul in Iraq. And yesterday, at the briefing, you said that the main road, delivery road, is cut starting from mid‑November. So what way… what road did this convoy use?
Deputy Spokesman: A different one. I believe WHO has more details on their website. Yes?
Question: I mean, isn’t it possible to use the same… the same way to deliver humanitarian assistance and food rations for civilians in Western Mosul?
Deputy Spokesman: There are, but we want to make sure that the best access roads for passage of a large convoy of food would be accessible. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. This morning, I read that they had acquitted the four guards who had boiled to death a schizophrenic patient in a mental… well, actually in a prison and…
Deputy Spokesman: Here, in this country. This is not an isolated incident. The New Yorker recently had an article about the horrific conditions. This patient was punished because he had defecated. According to The New Yorker, the conditions are so horrifying that it would lead to, you know, any kind of… so does the United Nations have anything to say about this? It’s… it’s the rights of the disabled. It’s cruel and unusual punishment.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we have, as you know, different human rights mechanisms that look into the rights of the disabled, the rights of people in detention. Obviously, we want to make sure that detention conditions everywhere in the world are adequate so that all those who are in detention have their basic rights respected.
Question: But this does seem to be… you know, the term is raised often but it’s valid, a tremendous double standard; human rights abuses in certain countries are focused upon and they are sanctioned. Human rights abuses in other countries are… are just committed with impunity.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we try to make sure that there’s one uniform standard for all countries. Have a good afternoon, everyone.