Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

14 November 2016

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.

**Secretary-General Travels

The Secretary-General landed in Marrakech a short while ago to attend the COP22 [twenty-second Conference of Parties] conference.  Tomorrow morning, he will hold a press conference before addressing the opening of the conference.  The Secretary-General is expected to tell the participants that now that the Paris agreement has come into force, it is the time to translate words into effective policies and actions.  He will add that the choices we make today and in the coming decades could lock in catastrophic climate impacts for thousands of years to come.  The Secretary-General will also attend a luncheon hosted by King Mohammed VI for the conference participants. Later in the day, he will have a bilateral meeting with the King.

**Climate Change

Speaking of climate change:  this year, 2016, is on track to be the hottest on record, with preliminary data showing that global temperatures are approximately 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.  This is according to a new assessment by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which says that 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have been in this century. …

The WMO also says that long-term climate change indicators are record-breaking, with concentrations of major greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continuing to increase to new records.  Arctic sea ice remains at low levels, and there has been significant and early melting of the Greenland ice sheet.  The WMO’s Secretary-General, Petteri Taalas, says that because of climate change, “once-in-a-generation” heatwaves and flooding are becoming more regular.  He added that the Paris Agreement came into force in record time and with record global commitment.

**Colombia

You will have seen that yesterday, the Secretary-General commended the efforts by the Government of Colombia and FARC-EP to conclude a modified peace agreement that incorporates many of the proposals of the groups representing Colombians who voted “no” in the 2 October plebiscite.  The Secretary-General also acknowledged the many groups and individuals in Colombian society who came forth with proposals to modify the texts and who took part constructively in the dialogue process.  Throughout this exercise, Colombians have listened to one another and have reaffirmed their collective desire for peace.  They now have a new opportunity to go forward on this road to peace more unified than before, he said.  And his full statement has been shared with you.

**Iraq

As of today, more than 54,000 people have been internally displaced in the context of military operations to retake Mosul in Iraq.  This is an increase of 6,600 people since 11 November.  About three quarters of the displaced families are sheltered in camps and one quarter in host communities. Available spaces in formal camps are still keeping pace with displacements.  The World Food Programme (WFP) has provided urgently needed food assistance to more than 100,000 people fleeing the conflict in Mosul, including a distribution on Sunday to 25,000 people in Gogjali, the first neighbourhood retaken inside Mosul City.

In addition to providing such assistance, WFP and its partners are working tirelessly to reach families that remain trapped in Mosul and newly-recovered areas.  WFP is providing ready-to-eat food rations to families wherever safe access is possible.  WFP then provides family food rations, giving a family of five a one-month supply of staple foods, including rice, wheat flour, chickpeas, vegetable oil, sugar and salt.  WFP has more details online.  Delivery is challenging, as the security situation remains fluid and many villages are highly contaminated with improvised mines and other explosive devices.

**Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, UNRWA, strongly condemns the killing of one of its staff members, Husein Ali Muhsen, and his uncle, Ahmad Mahmud Muhsen, in Syria yesterday.  Reports indicate that Mr. Muhsen and his uncle were killed by an airstrike that hit a mosque during morning prayers in the Palestine refugee camp of Khan Eshieh in the south-west of rural Damascus. At least 12 people were injured in the incident.  Mr. Muhsen is the twentieth UNRWA staff member killed since the beginning of the conflict in Syria. The thoughts and condolences of all UNRWA staff go out to his bereaved family.

**United Nations Disengagement Observer Force

You’d asked in the past about the UN Disengagement Observer Force’s (UNDOF) departure from Camp Faouar.  I can tell you that UNDOF’s incremental limited return to Camp Faouar commenced today, in accordance with Security Council resolution 2294 (2016) of 29 June, which requested the Secretary-General to expedite preparations for the return of an UNDOF presence to Camp Faouar, conditions permitting, following its temporary relocation from a number of positions in September 2014.  Both parties to the Disengagement Agreement continue to support UNDOF’s return to Camp Faouar.

**Antibiotic

Today marks the first day of World Antibiotic Awareness Week.  With this campaign, the World Health Organization aims to increase awareness of global antibiotic resistance and to encourage best practices among the general public, health workers, policymakers and the agriculture sector to avoid the further emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance.  More information is available online.

**Diabetes

Marking World Diabetes Day today, the Secretary-General said in a message that the disease is a leading cause of poor eyesight and blindness worldwide, and that it is often too late for people to restore or improve their vision because the changes are painless and gradual.  He stressed that it is vital that all people with diabetes have their eyes examined regularly.  The Secretary-General noted that some 422 million people live with diabetes, which shortens lives and, if not managed, can cause severe complications such as amputations, strokes or kidney failure.  He emphasized that we must focus on both prevention and strengthening health services so that everyone who has this debilitating disease can receive the support he or she needs.

**United Nations Children’s Fund

Our colleagues at UNICEF say today that over 200 prominent writers including novelists, playwrights and poets, have joined a global literary campaign this week, penning “tiny stories” of around seven lines each to highlight Universal Children’s Day.  The short story series kicks off UNICEF’s commemoration of its seventieth year working to bring help and hope to every child.  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Paulo Coelho, Christina Lamb and Nuruddin Farah are among participating authors.  More information on UNICEF’s website.  That’s it for me. Any questions?  Yes, Stefano.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you very much.  Yes, again, on the Trump elections and Secretary‑General Ban Ki‑moon on the issue of climate change, now, we saw that the reporting that, I mean, the Secretary‑General has been optimistic that Donald Trump is going to not follow with his statements about climate change being some Chinese scam or something like this, and he's going to go ahead because this is what humanity wants.  But I would like to know where is this optimistism coming from?  After maybe the brief conversation they had?  Or because, unfortunately, yesterday, in the 60 Minutes interview, the question was not asked, but it looks like the United States with a Trump Administration is not going to follow on what are the, what is its important role.  So what is the really, you know, can you tell us more specifically the worries the now, the Secretary‑General has about it?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, we'll have to wait and see what the new administration is like once it enters into office, once the administration is formed.  We have been making aware to all world leaders the problems that could arise if we do not go ahead and deliver on the commitments made in Paris.  Ultimately, as the Secretary‑General is to point out in Marrakesh tomorrow, if you do not take action now, the consequences of inaction or of any sorts of delays in implementing the Paris framework could complicate lives for centuries and even millennia to come.  The sort of scientific information we have, as I just mentioned with what the World Meteorological Organization was saying, is that we're already at a point where we're encountering the warmest climates ever recorded.  So we have to take action now.  He will underscore that message to all of those.  He believes that the US Government has played a valuable leadership role so far in recent months in terms of helping us move forward towards the entry into force of the Paris Agreement and we need to go ahead with that.  Any effort to divert from that course of action could actually be disastrous for all human life centuries down the line or even in the coming decades.  So we really need to consider what we do very carefully.  And regarding the conversation, you're right, that he did speak with the President‑elect on Friday by telephone, and his point was that, as we have said in the readout, that he expressed confidence that the United States and the United Nations would maintain their traditional strong ties of cooperation to advance peace and security, sustainable development, and human rights throughout the world.  And they did agree to remain in contact.  Yes, Luke and then, and then you. 

Question:  A follow‑up to that.  There's been some talk from some political leaders in France who have suggested that should a major country depart from the Paris Agreement, that certain trade punishments should come into effect, like a climate tax and a carbon tax.  There were pains taken during the crafting of the Paris Agreement to avoid… actually, to try and make the agreement as appealing as possible and to avoid punishments for departing.  Does the SG worry about the global ramifications if countries start punishing other countries for leaving the Agreement?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I don't want to get onto a speculative course in terms of worrying about what may happen.  Right now we have an agreement.  It has entered into force.  There is a good head of steam that has built up over the course of this past year in support of that, and we want to see that maintained.  Like I said, diverting from that course brings about uncertainties.  It could bring about adverse consequences, not just for an individual nation, but for all people, so right now, our plea to all States is to stay on the course that they've set.  Yes.

Question:  Apparently, the Government of Burundi has become dissatisfied with Mr. Jamal Benomar and is sending or will send soon a letter to the UN asking the UN to reconsider the, you know, to even change mediator or at least telling the UN that they don't want to have anything to do with Mr. Benomar anymore.  Do you have a reaction to that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, they have been in communication with the UN.  Certainly, they have reflected about the work and the presence of the UN in the country.  For our part, what we can say is that Jamal Benomar continues his work as Special Adviser, and he continues to enjoy the full support of the Secretary‑General.

Question:  Same topic?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, hold on.  Yes.

Question:  Yes, thank you, Farhan.  This… talking in this same vein on the Trump conversation, Mr. Trump's point man in this is going to be Mr. John Bolton.  And Mr. John Bolton is the one who had suggested, if you take the ten floors out from the United Nations, it will still continue to function.  Now, basically he's saying that United Nations, with so much bureaucracy, becomes dysfunctional.  What do you have to say that he… when he comes and if he appoints somebody like Mr. Bolton, what will happen to the relationship of the United Nations and the Trump Administration?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, I don't want to speculate what his administration will look like.  It's still being formed, and suggesting that John Bolton or anyone has a particular role right now is simply speculative.  Regarding Mr. Bolton, however, I would point out to you that he was the Ambassador of the United States to the United Nations at the time that, that Ban Ki‑moon was selected.  He is very well aware of Mr. Bolton and has been, and has had a good relationship with him.  Yes.

Question:  Sure.  I just want… some other things, but I wanted to ask on Burundi, I'd asked you on Friday about this letter, and I mean, people in Burundi are saying that the sequence of events was a letter from Ban Ki‑moon to Pierre Nkurunziza saying farewell and him writing back and saying farewell also to your Special Adviser.  So I wanted to know, one, can you… you seemed to imply that the only communications have been about the presence of… of the team in the country.  Can you address specifically that which is being said?  And also, is it the case… did, in fact, Pierre Nkurunziza misunderstand that various officials at the USG level will be, will be tendering resignations?  Is there any update you can provide about the status of these… these high officials?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, it's standard practice for a lot, a wide range of senior officials to turn in their resignations at the end of a Secretary‑General's term.  Some of them will do that in the early months of next year to allow for there to be a smooth transition.  And, of course, we'll keep you apprised of those as they happen.  For now, like I said, Mr. Benomar is in charge of the Burundi file, and he has the Secretary‑General's support on this.

Question:  And was there a letter back and forth?  Has he written farewell letters to Heads of States?  It doesn't seem like that's a secret…

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General has been writing some end‑of‑term letters, yes.  Oleg, and then Joe.

Question:  Farhan, on the UNDOF announcement, with the return of the peacekeepers to the camp, does it mean that the situation in Golan is actually improving?  Do you see less fighting between the parties?  And what's basically going on over there?  It's been a while since we received any updates on that.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the bottom line is that we had asked, we had agreed to have an incremental and limited return and based on security conditions.  The situation in the area is dramatically different from what it was prior to 2014.  And the Mission's concept of operations has been adjusted accordingly.  But, but we are going to incrementally return back.  Right now, the total number of troops that deployed to Camp Faouar this morning is 127, and more are expected to join in a week.

Question:  Does that mean they're going to commence patrols, or they're just going to be staying put on the camp side?

Deputy Spokesman:  For now, the idea is they're coming in and we'll see what sort of duties they will perform.  They will perform as many of the mandated tasks as they can, security conditions permitting, which was the point of the resolution.  Yes.

Question:  Following up, again, on the, on Trump's election, in addition to climate change, Mr. Trump has made it very clear during the campaign that he would advocate a freeze on admitting refugees from Syria and other countries in the region beset by terrorism.  And there's every indication that he intends to follow through on that commitment.  So I'd like to know whether that came up as a discussion point in the call on Friday with, between the Secretary‑General and Mr. Trump, and also the Secretary‑General's opinion or concern if Mr. Trump follows through with that strategy.  And an unrelated question, and maybe I missed this, I'm not sure.  Are there any contingency plans underway with regard to the disaster, potential disaster, in New Zealand and the tsunami?

Deputy Spokesman:  On New Zealand, I don't have any details for you.  I believe we've been monitoring the situation, trying to see what kind of support New Zealand needs.  If we get a request from the New Zealand Government, we would, of course, try to respond and provide as much assistance as we can.  Of course, we're, we need to await that request.  Regarding the conversation with the President‑elect, it was just a short, basically, introductory telephone conversation of just a few minutes or so.  So I wouldn't read too much into that, but they did say that they would remain in contact, and so we'll see how that develops.  And regarding your question on refugees, of course, we want all of, all nations to be able to share responsibility for treating refugees fairly.  We're witnessing the largest population of refugees since the Second World War.  It's a very huge challenge, and we need all the nations of the world to be able to step up to that.  And we continue to expect that of every nation.  Yes, yes, please.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  There are some reports that the Myanmar Army burning down the Rohingya villages.  What Secretary‑General is doing to prevent these tragedies? 

Deputy Spokesman:  Certainly, we're very concerned about these latest reports.  Obviously, we would want to see restraint on the side of the various parties on the ground so that, so that the violence, the level of violence is brought down.  Beyond that, as you know, our office has been in touch with the Government authorities and they have visited Rakhine State, and we have pleaded for calm in this, at this very delicate time.  Yes.

Question:  Yes, Farhan.  This is a question which, in the past, you have been very reluctant to answer.  Again, India and Pakistan are, I mean, about to embark on a war or a short war, as they're saying.  And today, seven Pakistani soldiers were killed by the Indian forces.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comments on that at all?

Deputy Spokesman:  You've heard what the concerns are that we've expressed recently and in the past months, and I have nothing further to add, but the concerns that we've expressed remain.  Yes, Mr. Takagi.

Question:  Thank you.  On the South Sudan peacekeeping operation, today, the Japanese Government will decide to give self‑defence for their new mandate which allows troops to go the rescue of UN staff and others and attack.  How does the Secretary‑General react to it?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we appreciate the discussions that Japan has had on this subject.  As you know, it contributes a force engineering unit in the UN Mission in South Sudan, and that engineering unit normally doesn't conduct traditional infantry operations.  So, in this regard, any positive decision to expand its mandate would be a strong signal about the revised posture of the UN Mission in South Sudan.  And, of course, we welcome any steps that a member takes, Member States take, that can help enhance the ability of UN peacekeepers to protect civilians, as well as UN staff.

Question:  Would it be useful somehow to prevent potential genocide in South Sudan?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you heard what Adama Dieng's concerns were, expressed last week, about this particular issue.  From our standpoint, of course, anything that will help to ensure that there is effective, strong peacekeeping that helps to protect civilians is a step forward.  Yes.

Question:  Sure.  I have something on that, but I'd wanted to ask you on Myanmar. Last Wednesday, Stéphane had asked me to provide links concerning the Secretary‑General's brother Ki‑ho being reported, involved, in mining in Myanmar and having been on a UN delegation in connection with his business there.  So I'm wondering, now that it's five days later, what have you been able to come up with on who the UN delegation was and why the brother was touring with it.

Deputy Spokesman:  We don't have anything for you on that just yet.  Carla.

Question:  Thank you.  Does the UN have any comment on the massive demonstrations for the impeachment of President Park in South Korea, and will this impact upon the plan to place THAAD missiles in South Korea, as far as you know?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I don't have any comment on the latest demonstrations.  Yes, Linda.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Following up on the issue of refugees and the requirement or the hope by the UN that all countries will take in refugees and that it won't just rest on the responsibilities of neighbouring countries and, perhaps, most heavily on Western countries, is there some kind of… I mean, we know there are lots of countries that have not taken in a single refugee.  Is there some kind of listing, perhaps, the UNHCR or the UN in general has in terms of urging countries who have not stepped up to do so?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we do try always to urge those countries that, that we feel could be doing more to do more and are in touch with them, principally through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and we continue to use that.  Any country that can help in any way, whether it's through financing or whether it's through taking in refugees, we encourage that, and we stay in contact with a host of Member States just so that we can move forward on that.  Yes, Oleg.

Question:  Yes, If I could just follow up on Carla's question, with the hundreds of thousands… thousands, some people even say more than a million, on the streets in South Korea, why don't you voice your regular, I mean, concerns and address the police and the…

Deputy Spokesman:  You're certainly aware of what our regular concerns are, and those remain across the board in all protests.  And we do have that here as well.  We want to make sure that the right to peaceful protest and freedom of assembly are respected.  And as long as that continues to be the case, we wouldn't have anything particularly further to say.  Yes.

Question:  Yeah, Farhan, follow‑up on this question of Myanmar. Rakhine, of course, is a place, a province, which is constantly under attack by various elements and especially because the Muslims who are there who are being persecuted.  I just wanted to know, the Secretary‑General's Special Representative, I think it's still Mr. Nambiar.  Has he gone over… is he going to visit that place again or not?  Or maybe you already answered that question.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, right now, he has, as you know, made a number of visits.  He's met with a number of leaders, and the Secretary‑General, as you know, recently also visited Myanmar, accompanied by Mr. Nambiar.  In terms of, in terms of continuing actions, you know, regarding the violence that, that you've been asking about just today, because of our lack of access, the UN has not been able to verify the latest reports, but we continue to underline the importance of exercising caution, to avoid any violence against civilians or loss of innocent lives, as well as damage to properties of the local population from the continuing operations.  We call on all stakeholders to uphold and comply with the rule of law, and we also call upon the authorities of Myanmar to investigate the reports of violence in accordance with the law.  Yes.

Question:  Sure, thanks a lot.  South Sudan, COP22, and Yemen.  On South Sudan, I wanted to know, first, just on the press freedom front, another radio station, Anisa Radio Yambio, has been closed by the Government, whether UNMISS is aware of it and your view.  And two, there's been a speech by the fourth largest party in Germany, the Left Party, saying that UNMISS is a waste of money and should… has spent $1 billion, was unable to do its job, and suggesting that Germany no longer participate or fund it.  And I wanted to know, not just as to the German contribution, what do you make of European… of this argument being made by a parliamentary party in Germany as to UNMISS?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, on the second issue, I'm not going to get involved in a back‑and‑forth with anyone in particular.  I would point out the value of the work of the UN Mission.  This is a country that's been at war continuously for several years.  There are, as you know, regularly more than 100,000 people being sheltered and cared for at UN Protection of Civilians sites.  We've been responsible for a large number of lives, not just people in our camps, but trying to maintain peace among the armed factions throughout the country.  So it's a very important, valuable work.  And I have no problem in defending the Mission at a time when they can clearly be proud of the fact that, for several years now, they have kept the absolute worst from happening to tens of thousands of people.  Regarding the closure of the radio station, as I pointed out on Friday, we do continue to call on the Government of South Sudan to respect the rights of free speech and access to information, as well as a free, independent, and safe media environment, which are critical to the functioning of any society.  And that's the case with this latest report as well.  And you had some other question…

Question:  I wanted to ask you about COP22.  One, I wanted to ask, you'd said, I think, on Friday that you… that… that the Secretariat, I guess was in contact with, I don't know if it was UNFCCC or the Moroccan authorities about this accredited attendee Suleima Barouk.  Seems like she's still not arrived, unless you have different information.  I wanted to know, what has the UN done given that her accreditation has been published, is, is ,exists, and the only grounds for blocking her was her ac… her self‑identification as being from Western Sahara?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, like I said, we had been told that the issue is, is being worked out on ground, so I believe that that should be, hopefully, resolved there and you can, you can ask the COP22 organizers how that's working.

Question:  UNFCCC, well, I asked UNFCCC, and Mr. Nuttall had said that, basically, Morocco said because she's self‑identified as Western Sahara, she's not coming.  So I wanted to know, from your perspective, given that that was the last that it was, I've heard from anyone on Friday, from the perspective of the Secretariat, given that the Secretary‑General is there and giving a speech, is it the kind of thing that he expects to raise, if not with the King, to somebody that his stated goal about NGOs is, in fact, not being respected?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we certainly want our stated goals about the representation of NGOs, including all of those who are accredited NGOs, to be respected.  That's the point of principle.  I do believe the discussions had been continuing on the ground, and, hopefully, they'll be able to resolve it there.  Yeah.  Yes, please.

Question:  Regarding the Antibiotic Awareness Week, what are some of the activities that are planned, and where will they be taking place?

Deputy Spokesman:  I am not quite sure what they are, but there is information available online on the website of the World Health Organization so that they should have a lot of the details for you there.  Yes.

Question:  Thank you.  Is the United Nations doing anything on a regular basis to monitor the case of the Saudi journalist in jail, Raif Badawi?  I've raised this question.  Actually, what's surprising to me is that, for the past four years, he's been in jail, and very little mention has been made of him.  It wasn't till Ahmed Fathi mentioned it when David Kaye was here that I was even aware of the case.  So what is being done to… on a regular basis by the UN?  Is there any reporting that the Saudi Arabian Government has to comply with?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are monitoring the situation, particularly our human rights colleagues, who have been following up on this.  And both the Secretary‑General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights have raised their concerns over the past years.  Yes.

Correspondent:  Sure.  I wanted to ask, on Yemen…

Question:  Recently?

Spokesman:  Yes, including recently, yes.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, on Yemen, there was a long article in The New York Times over the weekend about the bombing of factories and clinics, but the one… I wanted to ask you about one line, it's a direct quote, "United Nations officials gave us photos of remnants found at the site of the funeral bombing that indicated that it had been hit by at least one American‑made 500‑pound laser‑guided bomb".  So it seemed like the UN… can you… is there some way to unpack this a little bit?  It doesn't sound like they're whistleblowers.  Is the UN aware that, in fact, the munitions used on that site were American‑made?  And also, what is the Envoy's, I guess, response to this detailed account of bombing of civilian infrastructure by the Saudi‑led Coalition?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Envoy has weighed in against all attacks against civilian infrastructure, and we believe that all such activities need to be halted.  Regarding responsibility, that, that is still to be conclusively determined, but we had tried to get some information on this.

Question:  And so but like these photographs, are they… I'm believing what the reporter wrote, that the United Nations officials provided these photographs.  Are… these photographs are in the possession of the UN.  Can we be provided in some other way to show, given that they go directly to the point of who's responsible for killing these hundred people?

Deputy Spokesman:  If we have the ability to disseminate the information that's gathered on the ground more widely, we certainly will do that.  At this point, right now, like I said, we don't have conclusive information.  But we have raised our concerns, and we do want all such activities to halt.  Have a good afternoon.

For information media. Not an official record.