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 Stephane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General will travel to Washington, D.C. tomorrow, in his final visit to the host country’s capital. This visit is an opportunity for him for a final farewell to the United States Government, and the Secretary-General will also have an opportunity to say goodbye to UN staff in Washington, D.C. He will be back on the same day.
As soon as we are done here, I will be joined by the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, and the Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, Mr. Alan Gilbert, will brief you about the role of culture and music as a vehicle for diplomacy in the world today. The Philharmonic, conducted by Mr. Gilbert, will pay special tribute to the Secretary-General at 2 p.m. this afternoon in the General Assembly Hall. The concert will also be an opportunity to welcome his successor Antonio Guterres before he takes office on 1 January.
The Secretary-General today took part in several events commemorating the end of his tenure. He first held a town hall meeting with UN staff from around the world, telling them that he saw their courage and resilience in the face of targeted attacks on our operations. Together with Madame Ban, he then unveiled a new portrait of him, painted by the Korean artist Lee Won-Hee, to hang alongside those of his predecessors in the Secretariat lobby. The Secretary-General said that, like the seven other Secretaries-General, he found that his admiration for the mission of the Organization only grew during his tenure.
He also took part in a special meeting of the Security Council, which adopted a resolution paying tribute to him. In his remarks, he said that over the past decade, he saw first-hand the Council’s capacity for innovative thinking, with more than a dozen peacekeeping operations and special political missions [created during his tenure]. He also emphasized that the Council is strongest when it is united, pointing to examples such as the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons]-UN Joint Mission for the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria and the establishment of the UN Mission (UNMEER) on the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. The Secretary-General noted that when unity is lacking, the consequences can be catastrophic, as in the case of South Sudan and Syria.
And earlier today, you will have seen we issued a statement on The Gambia, in which the Secretary-General said he has learned with dismay of the takeover yesterday morning of The Gambia’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) premises by the military. He condemns this outrageous act of disrespect of the will of the Gambian people and defiance towards the international community at a time when a high-level Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) delegation was in the country to broker a peaceful transfer of power. The action violates the independent status of the Commission, and could compromise the sensitive electoral material under the Commission’s custody.
The Secretary-General reiterates his call for a peaceful, timely, and orderly transfer of power, in full respect of the will of the Gambian people as expressed in the presidential election. He calls on the Gambian military and security forces to immediately vacate the premises and refrain from any further acts with the intent to jeopardize efforts towards the peaceful transfer of power. Those found responsible for acts of violence and human rights violations must be held accountable.
Turning to Syria, the UN is deeply concerned by reports of fighting in Aleppo today, despite the announcement of a ceasefire agreement last night. Any continued fighting leaves thousands of civilians in the direct line of fire. The safety and security of tens of thousands of men, women and children still trapped in eastern Aleppo remains precarious. We urgently call for a pause in fighting to allow people who wish to safely leave besieged eastern Aleppo for a destination of their choice. The parties must also ensure that those who have surrendered or been captured are treated humanely and in line with international law.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Syrian men, women and children have managed to leave the eastern part of the city in recent days. UN teams are on the ground in Aleppo and responding to the needs of those displaced where we have access. We stand ready to step up our support in all parts of Aleppo, but it is critical that the UN obtain approval to go anywhere in Aleppo and where urgent protection and humanitarian assistance is needed.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights also said today that any evacuation of the civilians in eastern Aleppo must be carried out in compliance with international law. The Syrian Government, he says, has a clear responsibility to ensure its people are safe. The High Commissioner said that it is palpably failing to take this opportunity to do so. And also today, the Independent Commission of Inquiry for Syria issued a statement reiterating its call for all warring parties to abide by the basic principles of the laws of warfare which continue to bind them.
Yesterday, in Iraq, primary health care kits sufficient for treatment for 3,000 people were handed over to the Primary Health Centre in a recently retaken neighbourhood of eastern Mosul city during a UN assessment mission in the area. The assessment also identified ways to enhance rapid distribution of further assistance, such as one-week ready to eat emergency food rations, high?energy biscuits, baby kits, bottled water, water purification tablets, hygiene and dignity kits. As of today, more than 95,000 people are internally displaced as a result the military operations to retake Mosul, which began on 17 October.
And in a statement issued today, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, warned the Human Rights Council that with the beginning of the dry season, South Sudan teeters on the brink of a disaster. He said that in recent months, many leaders from across the political spectrum have intensified calls to ethnic animosity and that there is a high potential for clashes between Government forces and armed group fighters on multiple fronts. The reports received are increasingly alarming. The statement is online.
And also on South Sudan, the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) in South Sudan says it is gravely concerned regarding the deteriorating operating environment, including the recent expulsion of the Country Director of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the order for a second senior member of that organization to leave South Sudan. The Country Team said that unacceptable actions such as this significantly undermine the ability of humanitarian organizations to operate at a time when the crisis is deepening and aid is urgently needed.
Just want to flag a report by WHO [World Health Organization] which says that one third of more than 700 health facilities in Borno State, in north-eastern Nigeria, have been completely destroyed. Of those facilities remaining, one?third are not functioning at all, mostly as a result of lack of access due to insecurity. Almost 60 per cent of health facilities also have no access to safe water, and about 100 temporary health facilities have been set up, of which half are emergency clinics for displaced people living in camps.
The World Health Organization says that high insecurity, difficult terrain and lack of health workers, medicines, equipment and basic amenities such as safe water are making access to essential, lifesaving health care extremely difficult for people in this conflict-affected area.
You will have seen yesterday the SG met with, two meetings I wanted to flag: One with the Mayor of New York, Mayor [Bill] de Blasio. The Secretary-General, during the meeting, expressed his gratitude to New York City for being a gracious host to the United Nations, as well as to Mr. de Blasio for being a strong champion of climate change and sustainable development.
The Secretary-General thanked the Mayor for proclaiming yesterday, 13 December, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Day, calling the designation a tremendous honour. Also yesterday, we had a drop-by from former US President Bill Clinton, who came by to thank the Secretary-General for his work during his tenure. The Secretary-General thanked Mr. Clinton for all the work he has done on Haiti and also on the tsunami relief a few years ago. Let’s go. Go ahead.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Starting on The Gambia, Mr. [Mohammed] ibn Chambas has given an interview to Reuters in which he threatened that the President could be strongly sanctioned if he doesn’t step down. And he notably didn’t take the prospect of a military intervention off the table. I wonder, how can he hint at these courses of action if that’s ultimately the Security Council’s decision to make?
Spokesman: No, I think Mr. Chambas, who, I understand, is now on his way to an ECOWAS meeting to participate in those discussions, was, I think, reiterating the point made by the international community, by by the AU (African Union), which is the need to respect the will of the voters and to respect the Gambian Constitution. Mr. Klein?
Question: Yes. Does the Secretary?General have any comment on the meeting I believe it was yesterday or this week between the Ayatollah [Ali] Khamenei and the head of the terrorist group, the Islamic Jihad, and also Khamenei’s statement that Israel will not exist within 25 years, and President [Hassan] Rouhani’s statement calling for armed resistance and jihad in the in Israel? Does he have any comment on those threats?
Spokesman: I haven’t seen those particular comments. I mean, I would refer you back to what the Secretary?General said and will continue to say in the face of comments like these, which is that Israel is a Member State of this Organization, like any other, and the sort of rhetoric calling for the destruction of a Member State is not acceptable. Mr. Lee, then Mr. Avni, then we’ll Mr. Abdelhamid, then Linda. Sorry. We’ll jump in go ahead.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about Burundi. On Friday, I’d asked you about the request by the opposition there to the Secretary?General to that the current mediator should be recused and that the UN should become more involved. I believe you have some kind of a statement. I wish you’d released it. But I also wanted to ask you about the status of the UN; in its note verbale to Burundi said that they would closely watch cooperation by the Burundians with the UN system to do this deployment to the Central African Republic. And given that it’s my understanding that Burundi is denying visas to to the UN Mission there and putting people on on one?month tourist visas in order to keep hold over them, are they cooperating?
Spokesman: I think the letter, from what I understand, states it, that we will be watching the situation. I don’t have an assessment to share with you. On Burundi, I can’t speak to Mr. [Benjamin] Mkapa. Obviously, from our end, Mr. [Jamal] Benomar is mandated by the Council to support this inclusive dialogue and he will continue to work on those issues.
Question: But if they if if the note verbale said that we’re we’re watching you to have you cooperate, and I guess I’m asking you factually, do you deny that Burundi has denied visas and given one?month visas?
Spokesman: I’m not denying it. What I’m saying is that the situation continues to be assessed.
Question: Merci. Thank you, Stephane. Is there any plan for Ban Ki?moon to meet with President?elect [Donald] Trump? When he’s in New York?
Spokesman: When we have something to announce, we will do so. Okay.
Question: Did he speak with him recently?
Spokesman: Yes, he spoke to him by phone, as you know.
Question: On that follow?up, in the meetings tomorrow in Washington, is he planning to meet with anyone from the new President’s
Question: And as far as as far as you know, does the new Secretary?General have any plan to meet with the new US President?
Spokesman: I speak for one Secretary?General at a time. So I can only speak and we only have one Secretary?General at a time. So for the sitting Secretary?General, I’m not aware of any contacts he will have with the transition team. As far as I gather, same information as you have. Most of the transition team, in fact, is here in New York.
Question: Okay. A second question: Yesterday, in the Security Council, the Secretary?General said that history will not judge us kindly and and words to that effect. Does that have, do you think, any legal standing, as far as future lawsuits?
Spokesman: No, it wasn’t a legal opinion. It was a moral opinion. Abdelhamid, then Linda.
Question: Thank you. I have two questions, Stephane. First, I recall that Kofi Annan, in his final days, he gave a very strong speech about his vision of a real solution of the Arab?Israeli conflict. Does the Secretary?General think along those lines? Would he release some
Spokesman: I think we should look for there will likely be something before he leaves office. There will be a he will go to the Council to speak on this.
Correspondent: My second question, there is an aide to President?elect Trump. Her name is Conway. And she said moving the Israeli moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is a top priority for the new administration. If these statements passes by without a statement from the the embodiment of international law, which is the United Nations, people might think that it’s okay to do.
Spokesman: I think listen, I think you’re two things. First of all, we’re in a period of transition. Just like there’s one Secretary?General at a time, there’s one President at a time for the US. So I don’t want to speculate what the next administration may or may not do. But as a matter of principle, I would caution against any unilateral moves by any party that would affect the status quo in Jerusalem. The question of Jerusalem is a final?status issue that needs to be resolved through negotiations. Linda and then
Question: Thank you, Steph. Going back to Aleppo, you mentioned that the UN needs approval from both sides to go in and help with humanitarian efforts. I was wondering it’s been mentioned, of course, that the Syrian Government needs to, you know, keep the people safe, etc. But I was wondering, is the UN getting better cooperation from the rebels and Al?Qaida?linked groups?
Spokesman: It’s you know, those access things are really negotiated on the ground. So I think the answer to your question is, when we have access, you will see that we have better cooperation.
Question: So does that mean you have very little access?
Spokesman: That we don’t have the access to all the places we want to go to.
Question: Hi, Steph. I wanted to ask if the Secretary?General has been in contact with Kofi Annan on the latest situation with the Rohingya in Myanmar? Are there any updates? There’s a protest happening
Spokesman: He has not had a direct conversation. I know his Special Adviser, Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar, was briefed by the former Secretary?General following his mission. We’ll take two more questions.
Spokesman: No, nothing to share. Two more questions.
Question: On Gambia, does the ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] mission?
Spokesman: I just said two more questions, so stop mumbling. Go ahead.
Question: On Gambia, does the ECOWAS mission mission including ibn Chambas meet already at President [Yahya] Jammeh?
Spokesman: I don’t believe Mr. Chambas met President Jammeh. He is on his way to ECOWAS headquarters for a discussion. Matthew?
Question: Sure. I only say it just because there’s been two days in a row the briefing’s been cancelled, so let’s try okay. I’m going to do
Spokesman: You know where to find us. We don’t
Correspondent: Well, I’ve asked emailed questions that you don’t answer.
Spokesman: You can also come in person.
Question: So I wanted to ask you this, on Nambiar, follow?up, Mr. Han Seung?soo, who is a UN official, who is also on the board of Doosan infrastructure, given Doosan infrastructure’s recent announcement that it’s selling gold mining equipment into Myanmar, what what reviews have been made that this double position as a UN official and on the board of a company selling business into a country with war zones
Spokesman: My understanding is that whatever actions Mr. Han Seung?soo takes have been properly cleared.
Question: In advance this one in particular?
Spokesman: I’m just
Question: Okay. And I wanted to ask. This is something. I went to the City Hall event yesterday. And and it may seem a small thing, but I want to ask you this. There seem to bewe photographers were on the outside of the police area, and there was another photographer on the inside that as I asked was not with UN Photo but is also apparently is a press member here, called Giles Clarke of Getty. So I was told that he had exclusive access to Ban Ki?moon for some period of time. My period is my question, I guess, is, is the UN spending money on this project? What is the project? Is it a UN project, a personal project?
Spokesman: First of all, I don’t think any organization and in this press room it is ethical for me to share the projects that other media organizations
Correspondent: No, no, I’m asking about access, equality of access
Spokesman: Let me finish. are doing. So it’s not for me to comment. And there is no UN funds being spent on this.
Question: But how does somebody get a resident correspondent pass if they’re not?
Spokesman: It’s not for me share
Correspondent: I believe there are no rules.
Spokesman: Khalas. Yes, and then we’ll go. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Stephane. Yesterday, Human Rights Watch released satellite pictures of burnt villages in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, establishing that it was done by the Myanmar military. Has those pictures been shared by Human Rights Watch with the compliments of human rights in United Nations?
Spokesman: I can check. I’m not aware that they have. Olga and then we’ll have to go.
Question: Thank you, Stephane. Yesterday, Staffan de Mistura in the stakeout said that 20 per cent of the population of Palmyra are still in the city, and they haven’t been evacuated before the ISIS retook the city. What information do you have on Palmyra? What updates and what about these people that looks like under siege now?
Spokesman: What we have is obviously continuing issues with the fighting that’s going on around Palmyra and Al Qaryateen in Homs. Obviously, we continue to receive reports of in Palmyra city of civilians that are stuck behind Da’esh lines. According to our colleagues at the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, over 500 families were displaced from Palmyra to Homs and in other cities and are being provided assistance. I’m going to go get the DSG.
Source: United Nations