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.
The Secretary-General will depart New York late on the evening of Sunday, 13 November, arriving in Marrakech, Morocco, on the afternoon of Monday, 14 November.
On the morning of Tuesday, 15 November, the Secretary-General will take part in the opening of the high-level segment of the Climate Change Conference known as COP22. This will also serve as the first meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement.
The following day, Wednesday, he will take part in the Summit of African Heads of State and Government hosted by His Majesty Mohammed VI, the King of Morocco.
While in Marrakech, the Secretary-General will also participate in events on topics including economic diversification and climate finance. He will also meet with world leaders and civil society representatives on the margins of COP22.
On Thursday, 17 November, the Secretary-General will travel from Marrakech to Paris, where he will meet with President Francois Hollande and Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. He will also visit the headquarters of UNESCO, where he will meet with Director-General Irina Bokova and staff members.
The Secretary-General will return to New York on Friday, 18 November.
**Deputy Secretary-General Travels
And next Monday, 14 November, the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, will depart New York for Washington, D.C., where he will have bilateral meetings and give a lecture at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The following day, he will chair the UNFIP Advisory Board meeting and the joint session of the UNFIP-UN Foundation Board of Directors.
On 16 November, he will travel to Brussels, Belgium, to participate in the Brussels Conference for the Central African Republic and meet with senior EU officials.
The next day, the Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Geneva where, on 18 November, he will meet with Heads of UN agencies located in Geneva, the diplomatic community, NGOs and the Swiss authorities. He will also address the students and faculty of the University of Geneva.
The Deputy Secretary-General will return to New York that weekend.
Fairly soon, the Secretary-General will deliver remarks at the closing of the 11th meeting of Heads of United Nations Police Components.
In his statement, he is expected to thank blue helmets around the world for protecting civilians and making communities safer; saying that the 13,500 men and women serving under the UNPOL [United Nations Police] banner embody the spirit of the United Nations Charter.
The Secretary-General will also note the increase in the number of women police officers and encourage further efforts in that regard.
He will also point out that by conferring responsibilities to host-State police, UN police have allowed peacekeepers to successfully exit in Timor-Leste and Sierra Leone.
From Afghanistan, the UN mission there [UNAMA] has condemned an attack against civilians in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
At least four civilians were killed and 128 others injured after a vehicle filled with heavy explosives detonated near the German Consulate in Mazar. 19 women and 38 children were among those injured.
The Taliban has taken responsibility for the attack, calling it revenge for recent air strikes in Kunduz.
The UN is concerned by the ongoing hostilities in Aleppo city. Indiscriminate shelling reportedly continues to cause displacement in western Aleppo, with 15,000 internally displaced people registered in recent days.
The eastern part of the city remains inaccessible to humanitarian workers, where an estimated 275,000 people remain trapped under horrific conditions. Food and health stocks are running dangerously low in the city. The UN has not been able to reach the eastern part of the city since July.
The United Nations urges all parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations, to put an end to indiscriminate bombing and shelling, to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, and to enable urgent humanitarian life-saving assistance, as required under international humanitarian and human rights law.
The Human Rights Office also says that the battle for Mosul is leading to the displacement of civilians from Iraq into Syria. It has received reports that Iraqi civilians from rural areas around Mosul City have been arriving in the Syrian governorates of Raqqa, Deir Ezzour and al-Hassakeh. They reportedly left, after the Iraqi Security Forces and allied armed groups captured the areas, fearing they would be seen as affiliated to Da’esh.
In light of the announcement of possible ground operations by Kurdish and other forces, and the conduct of regular airstrikes by the US-led Coalition, the Human Rights Office is concerned that Da’esh tactics already employed in Manbij in August that endanger the civilian population may be adopted in Raqqa and surrounding areas. Those would include taking civilians hostage and planting improvised explosive devices in civilian houses and residential neighbourhoods.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has called for immediate action to ensure that the rights and the needs of victims and survivors of atrocities in Iraq are met – including, crucially, the need for justice, truth and reconciliation.
Da’esh appears to be continuing to carry out killings based on decisions of its self-appointed ‘courts’. On Tuesday, Da’esh reportedly shot and killed 40 civilians in Mosul city after accusing them of ‘treason and collaboration’ with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).
Since 27 October, Da’esh has been relocating abducted women, including Yezidi women, into Mosul city and into Tel Afar town. Some of these women were reportedly “distributed” to the group’s fighters while others have been told they will be used to accompany Da’esh convoys. And there are more reports of Da’esh forcing villagers to leave their homes, included one incident around 24 October when it ordered some 2,000 families out of al-Shura sub-district.
There’s more in a press release from the Human Rights Office.
Adama Dieng, the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, has visited South Sudan in response to growing concern about reports of targeted ethnic violence against multiple ethnic groups.
While in the country, Mr. Dieng met with UN officials, senior Government officials, civil society groups, religious leaders and community members. He visited a protection of civilians site in Juba and travelled to Yei to meet with members of the community and government there.
He expressed his dismay that what he had seen and heard confirmed his concerns of the strong risk of violence escalating along ethnic lines, with the potential for genocide.
Mr. Dieng noted that the media, including social media, is being used to spread hatred and encourage ethnic polarization.
He said that he is particularly concerned by the involvement of the youth of this country in this dangerous spread of hatred and hostility, as they are particularly susceptible to divisions within society.
His full remarks are available in our office.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel has wrapped up a two-day visit to Banjul, the capital of the Gambia to consult on the electoral process there and on how the United Nations can support the country’s people.
While in the Gambia, Mohamed Ibn Chambas met with the members of the Inter-Party Committee, civil society representatives, diplomats and development partners.
Speaking to the press, he reiterated calls by the UN and other partners on the Government to conduct an independent investigation into the deaths in custody of Ebrima Solo Krummah and Solo Sandeng.
The Special Representative also emphasized that the UN is appealing for the holding of a transparent presidential election, stressing the importance of a level playing field as a key precondition.
He noted that political parties and the presidential candidates have a responsibility to defend not only the interests of their own party and supporters, but also to safeguard the unity of the whole nation.
I also want to flag a report issued yesterday on measles by the World Health Organization, UNICEF and partners.
It finds that despite a 79% worldwide decrease in measles deaths between 2000 and 2015, nearly 400 children still die from the disease every day and progress has been uneven.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and Pakistan account for half of the unvaccinated infants and 75% of measles deaths.
More information is available online.
Also on children’s health, UNICEF released today a new report entitled ‘One is Too Many: Ending Child Deaths from Pneumonia and Diarrhoea’.
Pneumonia and diarrhoea together kill 1.4 million children each year, mostly in lower and middle-income countries.
Pneumonia in particular remains the leading infectious killer of children under five, claiming the lives of nearly a million children in 2015 – more than malaria, TB, measles and AIDS combined.
Approximately half of all childhood pneumonia deaths are linked to air pollution, a fact UNICEF said world leaders should keep in mind during ongoing climate change talks at COP22.
The report is available on UNICEF’s website.
And once I’m done, the guest at the noon briefing today will be Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Mr. Wu Hongbo, who will brief you on the Global Sustainable Transport Conference.
And then, on Monday, at 11 a.m., there will be a press briefing by a Member of Parliament of Ukraine, Mr. Mustafa Dzemilev.
That is it for me.
**Questions and Answers
Deputy Spokesman: Do you have any questions before we go to our guest? Yes, George?
Question: Thank you. Two quick housekeeping kind of questions. Number one, the Sustainable Transport Conference. Where and when is that conference? Is that starting right now?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, Mr. Wu Hongbo will talk to you about that very Conference and he’ll some provide more details.
Question: He will give us the details.
Deputy Spokesman: But it is to be held towards the end of this month in Turkmenistan.
Question: Now, just one second. The Conference on the CAR [Central African Republic] at which the DSG is speaking, will there be, you know, will we get copies of his speech and any other material? Is there a website for it or something?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe any website would be handled by the Belgian authorities. You might look for that. I do think there is a website for the Conference.
Regarding the Deputy Secretary-General’s remarks, of course, we’ll try to put those out whenever we get those from him.
Correspondent: Thank you very much.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Since Saudi Arabia is back on the Human Rights Council in spite of the fact that the Secretary-General has denounced their bullying and attempt to blackmail him, will the United Nations be giving attention to the horrific cruelty of the punishment of Saudi journalist Raif Badawi? This is now four years. The UN raised the issue maybe four years ago. He’s still in jail. This is terrorizing his family, his children.
Deputy Spokesman: We have raised, both the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights have raised our concerns about the treatment of Raif Badawi. We pleaded for his fair treatment and we will continue to do so. And of course, it’s up to the members of the Human Rights Council to determine what steps they take as a body. But as you know, they receive reports from the Rapporteurs, from the Human Rights High Commissioner; and many of them continue to look with concern about the sort of practices, including ill treatment of journalists such as this one.
Question: Yeah. On South Sudan, you know, I note that the, that Mr. Dieng in his remarks is saying that genocide – there are signs of potential genocide in South Sudan. And he also says he plans to inform the international community of his assessment and call for action. What I would like to know is whether there is concern that the recent actions involving the removal of the commander on the ground in South Sudan could actually hinder the ability of the UN peacekeeping force to take steps to prevent that genocide from happening. I mean, what steps is the Secretary-General and Department of Peacekeeping Operations taking to shore up the UN’s on-the-ground resources so that they will get ahead of a potential genocide that Mr. Dieng is saying is a real possibility?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, first of all, we believe that if there is any concern about violence on the ground, which we definitely have, it is important, it is crucially important that our peacekeeping force on the ground be as effective as it can be. That was one of the reasons why it’s imperative to make sure that the command of the mission and the structure of the mission is as strong as it can be.
So that is one of the reasons for the decisions that we’ve taken and we will redeploy forces as need be to make sure that all of the areas, including protection of civilian sites and population centres, are protected.
But the crucial thing in terms of avoiding a worsening of the situation is to make sure that the political leaders get together.
We have been warning for several years, really since the end of 2013, three years ago, of the need to make sure that the political leaders get together so that the armed forces of the country, the various fighting forces do not break down along ethnic lines. That has been a concern then and it remains a concern now.
As you know, we have had a peace agreement on the ground and you saw the problems that we had with it over the summer. But it is important that the different forces of the SPLA and SPLA in-Opposition work their differences out peacefully so there are no further divisions. Any worsening of the situation would be devastating for the population who have known a lot of fighting and a lot of suffering in the very brief lifespan of their country.
Question: As you know, Kenya’s position, we heard it from Kenya’s Ambassador and also from their leaders, is that there is, it was scapegoating of the commander and avoidance of addressing more widespread systemic problems within the UN’s peacekeeping operation. So the [inaudible], the commander was removed and I understand there’s an interim replacement, but what is being done to address immediately the systemic issues? Or does the UN disagree with Kenya’s assessment?
Deputy Spokesman: We disagree with the idea that there was scapegoating. The report by Patrick Cammaert was very clear about responsibilities. And there are other people who will need to face some form of action as a result of the incidents that took place in July.
We are moving most quickly with the question of the Force Commander because it was vital to have an effective peacekeeping force running on the ground. The flaws that were found by General Patrick Cammaert were ones that needed to be addressed.
We do need to address long-term concerns, systemic concerns. And that is something that the Kenyan Ambassador has said and we certainly respect his views on. There are a lot of problems. It is not simply one individual. And we never said it was simply one individual.
But of course, what that means is we’re taking follow-up action and we’ll continue to follow up and we’ll let you know what other steps are taken as they are approved. Yes?
Question: Yeah. Farhan, about this report, maybe you have been asked this question earlier because I was late. About this, I mean briefing by the United Nations Human Rights [spokeswoman], Ravina Shamdasani. The United Nations has evidence that the ISIS is now gathering some chemical weapons to be used. Do you have any evidence that can be presented? Also, yes?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, there was a briefing given earlier today in Geneva by the Human Rights spokeswoman. And I would refer you to what she said. I read a bit of that at the start of the briefing before you come.
Question: So there is no update other than what she said?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, those are the details. We would of course need more details in terms of this. It is always a concern, any reports of the use of chemical weapons. And we would need to see whether there’s any ability to investigate that.
Question: Also on this briefing by Ms. Shamdasani included about this in Aleppo that, what do you call, there is going to be starvation in Aleppo if immediate aid is not given. So what is the update on that?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the update is that the situation on the ground still has not improved. As of next week we believe that the food distributions in Eastern Aleppo will have halted because there is no more food left to distribute. So what that means is that there is a quarter of a million people living in an area that is deprived of food. That can’t go on.
We presented a proposal as Mr. Egeland said yesterday, a proposal that would include the need for humanitarian evacuations from Eastern Aleppo, the ability to get aid in, security assurances from all sides, and in addition bringing in medical experts into a place that hasn’t had any real health facilities working properly for quite some time.
So there is a plan that we’ve proposed with the parties but we haven’t received assurances we need to move forward.
Question: So is there any chance that [indiscernible] situation is redeemable? That Aleppo can be saved from the disaster?
Deputy Spokesman: The various parties on the ground have pledged the idea of working to have pauses, to have different humanitarian measures. But we have put on the table what we think is necessary and that is urgent and essential.
Like I said, as of next week there’s a real possibility, a genuine possibility that you will have one quarter of a million people living in an area that is for all practical purposes utterly deprived of food. That’s unimaginable.
Question: Yes, back to South Sudan. So when do the Kenyan peacekeepers start leaving?
Deputy Spokesman: Some of them have been leaving as it is. Several hundred have gone. I believe another hundred more may be leaving today. As far as I’m aware, what we have tried to do in the short-term is to have the Nepalese peacekeepers deployed to Wau so that area is taken care of.
Question: So that’s where the Kenyans were concentrated, in Wau?
Deputy Spokesman: There are some different areas, but that was one area in need.
Question: So will there be troops from other countries coming in?
Deputy Spokesman: We anticipate that, yes.
Question: Also when does Ellen Margrethe LA�j’s term end?
Deputy Spokesman: At the end of this month.
Question: And her replacement is under way, as they say?
Deputy Spokesman: You’ll know it when we name it. Yes?
Question: Sure. Sorry, on South Sudan, I just want wanted to know first, did you say, have you said anything about Eye Radio, the media that was closed down there today, in your opening on South Sudan? And if not, do you have any response to it? You did?
Deputy Spokesman: Glad you asked. We are very concerned by the closing of Eye Radio by the South Sudanese authorities. The UN Mission in South Sudan has repeatedly raised its concerns with the Government of South Sudan about the severe restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and the additional clamping down on media, including arrests of journalists and the closing of media houses. We continue to call on the Government to represent the rights of free speech and access to information as well as a free independent and safe media environment which are critical for the functioning of any society.
Correspondent: Actually, I have more on South Sudan.
Deputy Spokesman: All right, one from you and then Oleg.
Question: I wanted to ask you, there’s a lengthy interview by the Foreign Ministry Secretary of Kenya in the Daily Nation. And she says that despite repeated requests, Kenya was never given a full copy of the report. All they have is the executive summary, which doesn’t provide the basis for firing their general. They also say that some, she says, and it’s a direct quote, that some within DPKO don’t, are, you know, targeting African commanders. The main thing I want to ask you is factually, was the report ever provided to Kenya, given that their three-star-general was sent home?
Deputy Spokesman: I know that in the preparation of the report, General Cammaert consulted with the Kenyans and so they were apprised of the details of his investigation, as were the other countries who were involved. So there was a dialogue and they should have, they should have been apprised of the nature of the problems.
Question: Her quote is: They only visited Juba, then flew back to New York, said Dr. Juma. Lieutenant General Ondieki was then summoned in October 2016 and told that he was culpable. So the way they are presenting it is that he was talked to at the tail end. And I guess what I’m saying is, does a troop-contributing country have a right to see the report on the basis of which their general being fired?
Deputy Spokesman: We have been in contact with the troop-contributing countries, including through the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. And like I said, in the preparation of the report, General Cammaert and his team were in touch with the relevant troop contributors. So they were apprised of all the various issues that had risen.
Question: But the actual report itself, is it never shared even with the country whose person is fired? Because as she said today — it was in the paper today —
Deputy Spokesman: I believe that the relevant contents of the report, the contents that were relevant to each country were shared with them.
Question: They say they only have the executive summary.
Deputy Spokesman: I believe the relevant contents, the relevant information was shared with each.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. With what is happening in Eastern Aleppo and taking in account that there is at least a temporary halt in air operations in the region, maybe it’s time to consider air drops over there? Since the situation is so bad, as you described it?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, it is difficult. Air drops are effective in certain environments. For example, they have been effective in Deir Ezzour, but in a heavily urbanized environment there are problems, including the need to have the ability to drop it safely without injuring people or damaging the pallets of food. So it is a tough operation and we haven’t tried to do air drops in the urban environment of Aleppo.
There also is the need, by the way, there will still always be the need for security on the ground to allow for distribution. So those are a number of challenges.
And as Stephane has pointed out many times, the amount that is provided by air drops is much less than the amount by road convoy. Our priority remains on getting food in, having access through the roads so that we can get food in, and also bring people who need medical help out.
Question: When there is no road access and basically you say the food is going to be out next week?
Deputy Spokesman: We are looking at what the options can be. I have told you what some of the basic problems are with air drops. It is not particularly the right environment to do that sort of operation effectively. Obviously, we will have to see what is needed to keep people from dying. But what is essential right now is to have the security assurances. We could get the food in if we have the security. Yes?
Question: Back to South Sudan. You mentioned earlier that the peacekeepers from Nepal were filling in or engaging in some additional support activities. I would like you to expand on that. But if I recall correctly, it was peacekeepers from Nepal who were the source of cholera in Haiti.
So I’m wondering what specific steps have been taken to ensure that that incident will not be repeated in South Sudan? I mean, specifically with the Nepalese, if that’s how you pronounce it, what preventive actions are being taken to avoid a repeat of the tragedy in Haiti?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, without sharing your premise on how it could be spread, I mean, it is not magically inside all Nepalese people, as you’re aware.
Correspondent: I did not say that.
Deputy Spokesman: Okay, I know —
Question: What I said was — wait, wait, wait. I want to —
Deputy Spokesman: I’m not trying to impute that motive–
Question: But I want to clarify for the record that there was carelessness on the part of the peacekeepers from Nepal in Haiti that as I recall, if I’m correct, that that is alleged to have caused or led to the cholera crisis there. So what I’m asking is in terms of procedures and preventive steps and vigilance, due diligence in making sure that those, that negligence, if you will, will not be repeated by peacekeepers from Nepal, when they are serving elsewhere and in particular South Sudan. That’s what I’m saying.
Deputy Spokesman: Regardless of where the peacekeepers are from, what we’ve put in place in all peacekeeping missions is an improved system for waste management. So there is better practices and better monitoring of our facilities, so that wherever we are, we are conscious of making sure that we maintain an appropriate environment including appropriate waste management practices by all peacekeeping contingents. Yeah?
Question: On Burundi — I just want to follow up on that. There was a lot of back and forth and it remained, at least to me, unclear. Does DPKO now screen peacekeepers from known cholera hotspots, wherever country they may be, before deploying them to places like South Sudan?
Deputy Spokesman: I think as we mentioned in the past, the World Health Organization does not believe that that type of screening is necessarily effective. So it is not –.
Question: So you don’t screen.
Deputy Spokesman: It is not standard practice.
Question: I wanted to ask you on Burundi and I don’t know if you addressed this, but there are a lot of reports floating around that Pierre Nkurunziza has written to Ban Ki-moon asking that Jamal Benomar be either — I guess he couldn’t be replaced as Special Advisor on Conflict Prevention but no longer be the interlocutor from the UN system. And I will also, that’s what is reported there, that he has been PNGed. I’ve also heard it may have just been a letter back from Mr. Nkurunziza to Ban Ki-moon responding to a farewell letter saying: and also your Envoy is leaving.
Can you clarify this? Because this is wide — has he been asked to replace him or is it just an off-handed comment in a letter?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t have anything to say in particular about diplomatic correspondence. What I do have to say is that Jamal Benomar continues to go about his work as a Special Advisor, including his work on Burundi.
Question: Did the Secretary-General write farewell letters to Heads of State such as Mr. Nkurunziza? Does that — seems like a pretty —
Deputy Spokesman: I believe he will be in the process. I don’t know whether that’s all written, but I believe that as he ends his term, he will be writing letters to the various Heads of State.
Deputy Spokesman: One last one and then we’ll go on to our guest.
Question: Okay. Well, okay, I was going to ask about Myanmar, but instead, I guess I want to ask about this because it seems like — I’ve written to UNFCCC about the individual who was banned, who was accredited by the UN system, and was supposed to be attending COP22 which I know Ban Ki-moon is going to be attending. And since the issue has to do with an issue he has been dealing with since earlier this year, which is Morocco and Western Sahara, in this case Morocco pretty openly saying: We are not going to have this representative from that territory, even if they represent the AU [African Union], attend the COP22 conference.
What is the Secretary-General’s position on her right to attend and can you give some status of how — is this going to only be addressed after the Conference? Or will she in fact attend when the Secretary-General is there?
Deputy Spokesman: We believe that all accredited NGOs have the right to attend. If their credentials are in order, that should be honored. That is a very simple and straightforward fact. I believe, as Stephane has pointed out earlier this week, that we have taken up the issue. So hopefully it will be resolved.
And with that, let’s get to our guest.
Source: United Nations.