The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. Thank you for staying.
After the briefing at 2 p.m., there will be a briefing by the Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He will share developments in Nigeria and showcase the country's vision at the seventy-first General Assembly.
Marking the International Day of Peace, the Secretary‑General this morning called on combatants around the world to lay down their weapons and observe a day of global ceasefire and non‑violence.
Speaking at the Peace Bell Ceremony, he said that ceasefires — like the Cessation of Hostilities in Syria — are vital, but emphasized that peace is about far more than putting weapons aside.
The Secretary‑General stressed that peace involves the hard work of mediation, conflict resolution through diplomacy, reconciliation, peacebuilding and sustaining peace. He added that it comes from the vision of a world in which people share the benefits of peace and prosperity on a healthy planet. His remarks are online.
And he will be leaving New York later this afternoon, as he told you earlier this week, heading to Montréal in Canada to address the opening of the Fifth Replenishment Conference of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
While there, he will also have a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau.
And he will be back in New York on Saturday. On Sunday, we will already have a number of bilaterals here at the UN.
A couple of notes from South Sudan, where we are told that the number of refugees has now reached 1 million, according to UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). This includes more than 185,000 people who have fled since violence erupted in Juba in July. Most of those fleeing are women and children. With this milestone, South Sudan joins Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia as countries which have produced more than a million refugees.
UNHCR warns that without further funding and support, they will struggle to assist the needy with even the most basic assistance. The Agency calls on donors to provide $701 million for South Sudan refugee operations, of which 21 per cent has been funded.
And still in South Sudan, members of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan concluded their first mission in the country yesterday. The Commission was established by the Human Rights Council in March. The delegation expressed concern about the diminishing space for journalists and civil society members, as well as the lack of access for the UN Mission and humanitarian actors and the escalation of sexual violence.
They also expressed grave concern about the ongoing impunity and lack of accountability for serious crimes and human rights violations in the country.
And the UN Mission in Colombia is now ready to begin verifying and monitoring the bilateral ceasefire and laying down of arms once the peace agreement is signed on 26 September.
The group of observers and civilian staff are being deployed in eight cities, and by 26 September, around 200 women and men will begin monitoring the ceasefire.
Mission personnel are actively meeting with local authorities, religious leaders, members of civil society — including Afro‑Colombian, indigenous and women’s organizations — to explain the mandate of the UN political mission.
The Mission is also working to set up the tripartite mechanism in charge of monitoring and verifying the bilateral and definitive ceasefire, and supports logistical preparation in the areas where the separation of forces, the laying down of arms and the beginning of a transition to civilian life will take place. More available in a press release from the Mission.
And our colleague, the UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel, Toby Lanzer, yesterday wrapped up a four‑day mission to Niger’s Diffa region, where Boko Haram violence has uprooted hundreds of thousands of people, disrupted livelihoods and increased food insecurity.
Mr. Lanzer said that despite the difficult living conditions, lack of sustainable income and basic means of daily subsistence, thousands of families continue to care for those who have even less.
He added that people in the Lake Chad region provide us an example of humanity that should be an inspiration for us all.
Nearly 300,000 people have been forced from their homes in Nigeria and within the Diffa region due to Boko Haram raids and attacks on villages. Two out of every three displaced people have now had to move more than once, each time testing their resilience and further increasing their suffering.
A couple of things: I know, Matthew, you had been asking about Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Mayuyu, and I can tell you that it is my understanding that he was repatriated from MINUSCA (United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic) this morning.
Also, just to share with you a couple of more things…
**United Nations Young Leaders
Our colleagues from DPI (Department of Public Information) want us to flag an event that will happen on 19 September.
The UN will introduce its inaugural class of Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the Social Goods Summit that day. The Social Goods Summit, as you know, is taking place at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan.
The 17 Young Leaders have been recognized for their leadership and contribution to the 2030 Agenda [for Sustainable Development]. They will be at the UN Headquarters next week and will be available for interviews. Please contact DPI and there will be more information in my office later that day.
A couple of facts to share with you for the GA (General Assembly), because I know you all love facts and figures: As of 15 September, we had 86 Heads of State signed up for the general debate, 1 Crown Prince, 5 Vice Presidents, 49 Heads of Government, 51 Ministers and 3 observers for a total of 195, which is two more than last year. We have, as of today, our colleagues in the Department of General Assembly and Conference Services Department Management tell me that 1,100 requests for bilaterals have been put through, not those involving the Secretary‑General, just using the bilateral booths downstairs, which is less than last year.
And 545 meetings have been requested, which include special side events and regularly scheduled meetings. As for the Secretary‑General, we have on paper, as of today, 124 bilaterals that he will participate in, 62 events, and that’s it.
On Monday, just to give you a heads up, just the tip of the iceberg, really, 8 a.m. press stakeout by the co‑chairs of the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants, and that’s PGA70 (President of the General Assembly for the seventieth session) and PGA71. That’s at the 3rd floor GA stakeout.
9 a.m., Danny Danon, the Permanent Representative of Israel, 3rd floor stakeout.
Deputy Secretary‑General Jan Eliasson and the Director‑General of the IOM (International Organization for Migration), Ambassador Bill Swing, will speak to you at 9:45 a.m. after the migration event. 3rd floor, GA.
The Foreign Minister of Norway, Mr. Børge Brende, will speak to you at 6 p.m. at the GA stakeout, and at 7 p.m., the Spokesperson for the Prime Minister of Japan, Mr. [Yasuhisa] Kawamura, will be here to brief you on the outcome of the bilateral meeting between the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the Prime Minister of Japan.
And I am sure lots of other things will be added.
And lastly, we say thank you Bangladesh and Sierra Leone today for paying their dues which brings the Honour Roll to… [to reporters] You’re all pathetic; 113.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you. Today marks the thirty-fourth anniversary of the massacre of Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila. Normally the Secretary‑General issues a statement on these occasions like Srebrenica and like Rwanda and other massacres. Why this occasion passes unnoticed by the United Nations?
Spokesman: I think, obviously, we recognize the suffering of the Palestinians that happened on that day in… in Lebanon. There are… the truth is there are unfortunately a lot of such grim anniversaries we could be marking — massacres that have happened in the past decade, in the past 20 years, and all too recently. We don't… just because we don't issue statements on each of them doesn't mean that we don't remember and that we don't honour the memories of the people who died violent deaths that day. Mr. Lee?
Question: I'm sorry, I'd asked you yesterday about what… to clarify what the Secretary‑General's proposal had been about this road that was… on which Security Council consultations were called last Friday. So I wanted to know… you said you'd look into it. But I also spent the… as least some on the sort of pro‑Moroccan side that have said the road is now completed. So I wanted just a factual report, if you have one, on what's actually taken place since last Friday.
Spokesman: No. What I have is that MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara) is undertaking any task in this current crisis to be based on the agreement of both parties and of the Security Council. The Mission's proposal would include the withdrawal by both parties of all armed elements. Peacekeeping… MINURSO would retain the exclusive presence in the area. And MINURSO is concerned about the preservation of peace and civility in Western Sahara and the prevention… the resumption of armed hostilities. [MINURSO] is an instrument of peace and not in the interest of either party.
Question: Okay. And one other thing. It's also on Western Sahara, but it's also sort of about UN rules. I've become aware… and maybe you can clarify this for the week to come… sort of what the… what is expected of the UN staff. A UN staff member, the Secretary of the Third Committee, Moncef Khane, was observed speaking to a representative of the Polisario, Mr. [Ahmed] Boukhari. And a complaint was made by the ambassador from Morocco to the USG (Under-Secretary-General) of DGACM (Department of General Assembly and Conference Management) — many acronyms there. And Catherine Pollard actually called the Secretary of the Third Committee in and said that he should be more careful who he talks to. So I wanted to know, beyond this particular case, how should UN staff… are they allowed to speak to diplomats of…
Spokesman: I'm not going to comment on the particular case because I have no detailed knowledge of who people talk to and when they talk to them. Obviously, I think as I general rule, UN staff speak to whomever they may want to speak to who may be in this building.
Question: Right. So you don't…
Spokesman: I'm not going to speculate further because I don't know the facts. Erol?
Question: Yes. Just to clarify. Before you said 24 meetings were requested or scheduled of the Secretary‑General, bilateral meetings. In the course of how many days?
Spokesman: 124, in the course of the general debates, so about ten days. Not in one day. Even he can't do that.
Question: Oh. Okay. All right. And then the qualification of my short exchange with the Secretary‑General before… after the press conference, I asked him specifically whether he reinforced his opinion that he would like to see a woman as the… his successor and what about the… someone coming from Eastern Europe. He only said, as I understood because I didn't record it, a woman from Eastern Europe or what? What did you hear…?
Spokesman: I think, you know, the Secretary‑General has expressed himself a number of times on this issue. The selection of the next Secretary‑General is firmly in the hands of the Member States. He's not going to get into the debate. I think he has expressed his opinion on a number of times, noting that all his predecessors, himself, of course, included, have all been men and that there's no reason why the best‑qualified candidate should not be a woman. That being said, again, as I would say and he would say the decision, the process, is in the hands of the Member States.
Question: Saying… just a short follow-up, saying that… many, many times… that the decision is in the hands of the Member States, does the Secretary‑General… let me try this… does the Secretary‑General mean really that his opinion will interfere with the process of the selection of his successor, or he thinks that actually some people will even not mind, what he thinks or not?
Spokesman: You know, the Secretary‑General speaks. People will take into account what he says. But constitutionally, according to the Charter, the process is in the hands of the Member States. You have to ask the Member States whether or not they're influenced by outside parties in this process, whether it's the Secretary‑General, whether it's civil society, or others. Oleg?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On South Sudan, are there any updates on the investigation on the events in the Terrain complex and the reaction, the measures that were taken by the peacekeepers? Anything on that?
Spokesman: The investigation is ongoing. I know General [Patrick] Cammaert was in South Sudan not too long ago. I don't know if he's still there, but I know that he went there not too long ago.
Question: And also on Syria, any updates on the trucks moving?
Spokesman: You know, unfortunately not. We have neither received the letters needed for the cross‑line convoys, nor have we received the necessary guarantees from the co‑chairs of the steering… of the support group, the US and Russia, to move the trucks cross-border. We are ready. We are primed. I think it's for all the parties to see that the needs of the Syrian people are great, and every day that we're unable to move is just another day of suffering for the people of Syria, especially in the hard‑to‑reach areas.
Question: Does that mean that right now the UN fully relies on the US and Russia as the co‑chairs and the guarantors of the ceasefire? I mean, are you still talking to the parties themselves or just…?
Spokesman: We're obviously talking to the parties themselves. And we rely on the goodwill of all the parties. But in terms of the cross-border and the security guarantees that we need, we look to the US, to the leadership of the United States and the Russian Federation, to have the necessary impact and influence over the various parties to ensure that the trucks can roll safely. Just as we're relying on the Syrian Government to ensure that we receive the right administrative permissions to move the trucks, to get through the Government checkpoints, which has so far not materialized. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Again, I fail to understand in the statement of the SG to the Security Council, his out‑of‑context reference to the attack on the Israeli athletes in Munich. It's out of place. I found it superimposed on the speech. Why is he, out of all the developments since 1972 until now, all the wars launched against the Palestinians, all these developments, attacks, massacres, he left all that… although he talked about occupation and settlement, I agree… but why he refer to Munich, in particular?
Spokesman: You know, it's become clear in these moments of where we see the peace process stalled that rarely one side… that rarely both sides are happy with what the Secretary‑General has to say in terms of bringing the reality of the situation to the attention of the Security Council. The Secretary‑General is taking the… taking an example of statements that are out of line, that are not helpful, to say the least. I think, again, his message is for both sides to recognize the humanity in each other. And as he said, they are neighbours. You're not going to change that. So they need for both to return to the negotiating table. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I don't know, maybe about a week ago, I asked about the DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) or the mission in the Central African Republic paying rent to a company that's on the sanctions list for blood diamonds. And I just… I wanted to… I'm assuming you might have some statement.
Spokesman: I think I answered. Somebody else asked, and I did answer.
Question: Okay. Then I’ll track it down. I wanted to ask you about this… this… I guess it's a bilateral meeting held yesterday on the 38th floor at 3:30 with the speaker of the National Assembly of South Korea. You were there, so it's just… the facts don't seem to be in dispute. But afterwards, those who attended held a stakeout, and I'm told by those who spoke with him that they spoke… they read much into it in terms of running for President in South Korea. I know you're not responsible for that, but what I don't understand is why on the UN side of the table there were only Korean staffers of the UN. For example, climate change was talked; where was Mr. [David] Nabarro and Mr. [Selwyn] Hart? And why was Oh Joon and his deputy from the Mission of South Korea on the UN side of the table?
Spokesman: I think on where the Ambassador of Korea was sitting, I would not read too much into the seating arrangements, because I think room had to be made. I think everybody everyone understands the clear delineation between the Mission of the Republic of Korea and the Secretary‑General. The meeting was held in Korean because the delegation was Korean. I think it's only normal that the Secretary‑General be with a staff that was… that is Korean. I think the complications of putting up interpretation booths was probably not worth it. So I think, whether it's… the Secretary‑General is, himself, speaking clearly and in depth about the issue of climate change, whether it's in English or in Korean.
Question: Right. But, I mean, I guess, I've attended photo ops where there is translation. I was just wondering… You can see how this appears. It makes it appear, professionally, given the stakeout afterwards, as very much directed at…
Spokesman: You know, the Secretary‑General was receiving a delegation from his home country. I think he's… he has never denied that he is from South Korea. He received a delegation from his home country. They spoke in Korean.
Question: Relatedly. I've attended other ones… I'm for all journalists going upstairs, but I've seen in previous… other photo ops, journalists that don't have a camera, print journalists, being told you can't go upstairs. And yesterday I saw that waived. So I'm just wondering, what was so special about this meeting that the rules, otherwise applicable and in force, were not applicable?
Spokesman: I think sometimes we do away with the rules. It's not the first and only time. Carla? Your microphone… don't touch it. Wait for the red light. There you go.
Question: On the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), many questions that were addressed by the Secretary‑General at his briefing were about the DPRK. There seems to be absolutely zero acknowledgment of the fact that the THAAD missile system is perceived and probably in reality an enormous threat to Russia and China. And so this is… is creating an increased tension in the whole area, and why is this issue being ignored while all anybody talks about are the DPRK's, you know, tests?
Spokesman: I think that's up to the journalists to ask the questions. I'm sure the Secretary‑General would have answered the question, had it been asked. Mr. Bays, and then I will relieve myself of your attention.
Question: Just a follow‑up question on Syria. Clearly, the ceasefire, the first stage is to get in the aid. And that's terribly important. The aid is part of the goodwill and part of a chain of events. Obviously time is… the clock is ticking. How worried are you that this whole effort could soon collapse?
Spokesman: I think the clock is ticking, especially for the people in Aleppo and the other hard‑to‑reach areas who are awaiting this delivery of food. You're right. It's all linked. I think it's important for the Syrian people to see the benefits of the cessation of hostilities and for that to be a positive movement in terms of reengaging on the political talks. It's still early days. I think we are realistic, and we never give up hope. But it is important for all those parties who have an influence, who have the ability to make things move, to use that influence so the trucks themselves can move. Thank you all.