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

16 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’s Travels

In Marrakesh, the Secretary-General today participated in the closing of the Summit of African Heads of State and Government, hosted by King Mohammed VI.  The Secretary-General pointed out that Africa is both at the forefront of the continued impact of climate change and is also a dynamic continent full of entrepreneurial and promising young people looking for creative solutions.

Yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General held a bilateral meeting with King Mohammed VI and congratulated Morocco on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of its entry into the United Nations.  The Secretary-General further underscored the importance of making progress in the Western Sahara negotiating process, as called for in the relevant Security Council resolutions.

In the early evening, the Secretary-General joined President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea and President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon as they signed the text of the special agreement referring the border dispute between the Republic of Equatorial Guinea and the Gabonese Republic to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).  This is a successful outcome of a process since 2008 to peacefully resolve the dispute.

The Secretary-General commended the two presidents for demonstrating true political leadership, courage and wisdom in reaching this mutually acceptable agreement, in accordance with the spirit and letter of the United Nations Charter.  He added that the event was a testimony to the determination of the two countries to move with a common vision to strengthen and respect the international rule of law, and contribute to lasting peace and good neighbourly relations.  His remarks and a separate statement are online.

**Desertification

A ground-breaking map of restoration opportunities along Africa's Great Green Wall has been launched at the UN climate change conference in Marrakesh.

The Great Green Wall’s core area crosses arid and semi-arid zones on the North and south sides of the Sahara.

To halt and reverse land degradation, around 10 million hectares will need to be restored each year, according to the assessment.

Experts say a variety of restoration approaches will be required to bring the Great Green Wall initiative to an effective scale and create a great mosaic of green and productive landscapes across North Africa, Sahel and the Horn.  More details are available on the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) website.

**Syria

The World Health Organization (WHO) condemns the attacks on five hospitals that took place in Syria between 13 and 15 November, including three hospitals in Western Rural Aleppo and two hospitals in Idlib.  At least two people were reportedly killed as a result of the attacks and 19 people were wounded, including six medical staff.  Shockingly, such attacks on health in Syria are increasing in both frequency and scale.  Throughout 2016, WHO and partners have documented 126 such attacks across the country.

WHO once again demands that all parties in the conflict respect the safety and neutrality of health workers, health facilities and medical supplies.  The pattern of attacks indicates that health care is being deliberately targeted in the Syrian conflict.  Such targeting would be a major violation of international law.

**Community Violence Reduction

As we announced yesterday, a high-level panel discussion on Community Violence Reduction (CVR) in Peacekeeping and Early Peacebuilding took place this morning.  The Secretary-General’s Chef de Cabinet, Edmond Mulet, stressed that to sustain peace, we need to address the root causes of conflict — not merely its symptoms.  He highlighted his experience in Haiti and noted that Community Violence Reduction programmes can transform lives and communities to create advocates for peace.  Community Violence Reduction offers a people-centered approach to engaging armed group members, spoilers and at-risk youth at the grassroots level, he said.

Highlighting successful experiences in the Central African Republic and Mali, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, also noted that CVR is a watershed example of peacekeeping learning to adapt and innovate.  The Assistant Secretary-General for the Rule of Law and Security Institutions in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Dmitry Titov, added that this tool has proven to be highly adaptable for stabilizing communities in a variety of environments, including in some of the most non-permissive ones.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN Joint Human Rights Office in the Democratic Republic of the Congo issued its analysis of the human rights situation in the country for the month of October, documenting 434 human rights violations, an important decrease compared to September.

State authorities are responsible for 62 per cent of these documented violations, including 29 extrajudicial executions.  Armed groups are responsible for 38 per cent of violations, and 39 executions.

The Office also says it is especially concerned by several assassinations of religious personalities, apparently linked to their political engagement.  You can find all the details in their report, available online.

**Somalia

From the UN Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), Special Representative Michael Keating has stressed that no one will benefit from a resumption of fighting.  His remarks come as Presidents Abdiweli Mohamed Ali “Gaas” of Puntland and Abdikarim Hussein Guled of Galmudug resumed their talks on implementing a ceasefire in the disputed city of Gaalkacyo.

A fragile calm has prevailed in Gaalkacyo and surrounding areas over the past week.

In a press statement, Keating said a ceasefire mechanism and withdrawal of fighting on both sides will be essential for resolving the conflict and ensuring that the local population does not continue to suffer.

**Central African Republic

In the Central African Republic, our colleagues from UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) say that nearly one in five children is a refugee or internally displaced.  Violence and widespread displacement have made children especially vulnerable to health risks, exploitation and abuse, leaving more than a third out of school and 41 per cent of children under five suffering from chronic malnutrition.  An estimated 6,000 to 10,000 children have been recruited into armed groups since 2013.

UNICEF says that the Central African Republic is still one of the world’s most dangerous countries for children, and that renewed violence threatens to undermine signs of progress.  Ahead of the donors’ conference in Brussels on 17 November, UNICEF calls on Central African leaders and global donors to put children first in the recovery plan by prioritizing basic social services like health and education for the most vulnerable.

**Security Council

This afternoon, at 3 p.m., the Security Council will meet on Kosovo.

It will be briefed by Zahir Tanin, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

**International Criminal Court

The High Commissioner for Human Rights today defended the International Criminal Court (ICC), following the decision by three States to withdraw from it, urging the international community to place its collective shoulder behind the institution.

Speaking at the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that although the powerful may fear the Court, victims, everywhere, plead for its involvement.

He added that the recent withdrawals appeared aimed at protecting their leaders from prosecution, noting that African countries have been the backbone of the ICC.  “Do not betray the victims, nor your own people,” he said.  “Stand by the Rome Statute and the Court.”  His full remarks are available on the UN Human Rights Office’s website.

**Tolerance

Marking the International Day of Tolerance today, the Secretary-General said in a message that the values of tolerance and mutual understanding, which are firmly embedded in the UN Charter and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are facing profound tests around the world.

The Secretary-General noted that refugees and migrants continue to face closed doors and clenched fists, while bigotry shows its face through racism, anti-Muslim hatred, anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination.

He added that too many armed conflicts have sectarian dimensions and that too many politicians use the cynical math that says you add votes by dividing people.

The Secretary-General pointed to a new campaign, called “Together” to promote tolerance, respect and dignity across the world.  It seeks to respond to the xenophobia faced by so many refugees and migrants, and aims to highlight the benefits of diversity and migration.

The winner of this year’s UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence — which is awarded every two years — is the Federal Research and Methodological Center for Tolerance Psychology and Education of Russia.

**Honour Roll

Today, we welcome Cuba to the Honour Roll, as our friends in Havana have paid their regular budget dues in full.  This brings the total number of paid-up countries to 136.

**Press Briefings

And my guest, after this part, will be the Director of the Operational Division at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), John Ging.  Earlier this month, Mr. Ging was in Haiti, Sudan and South Sudan; he will now speak to you about the humanitarian situation in these three countries.

And then guest at the Noon Briefing tomorrow will be UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande.  Ms. Grande will discuss the humanitarian situation in Mosul either by telephone or video link from Berlin.

**Concert

And last, I just wanted to let you know that this Sunday, 20 November at 3 pm, the UN Chamber Music Society of the United Nations Staff Recreation Council will perform a special concert at Lincoln Center dedicated to homeless people of New York, in collaboration with the NYC Department of Homeless Services.  The event will be dedicated to people experiencing homelessness in New York City, and all funds will be directed to the Homeless Trust Fund.

At the concert, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, and Steven Banks, Commissioner at the Department of Social Services and head of the Department of Homeless Services of New York City, will deliver remarks.  You’re all welcome to attend.

**Questions and Answers

That's it for me.  Any questions?  Yes, Michelle?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Just on Russia withdrawing its support for the ICC, given that they hadn't ratified the treaty, do they need to notify the UN that they're withdrawing their signature?

Deputy Spokesman:  At this stage, the position is that you can either be a signatory or a ratifier.  Russia, as you just mentioned, has not ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and, therefore, is not a party to the statute or the court.  We'll have to see what kind of communication we're receiving from Russia and what, if anything, it implies.  We haven't formally received any letter from Russia about this matter so far.  But at this stage, the point is that a signature is basically… it indicates intent to join down the line.  It's not the same thing as a ratification and doesn't have the same legal implications as a ratification.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask you about Burundi.  I wanted to… to… to know if you can confirm and provide some detail about the Government rejecting or delaying visas both for the, I guess, outgoing Office of Human Rights staff and even for Mr. [Jamal] Benomar's staff for… you know, long delays.  Can you say whether the UN is having a problem with visas from Burundi and what… if you have any statement on that.  And, also, as to sexual abuse allegations in the Central African Republic (CAR), what's the status of getting… getting, I guess, the… the… the… knowing who's charged?  And what… can you confirm or deny that up to 25 Burundians are, in fact, charged with… or are identified by the UN as responsible for sexual abuse or exploitation?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, on that… on the latter question, as you know, we've been getting periodic updates on the abuse allegations, and we've kept you apprised.  If we get any further updates, including on any specific contingents, we'll certainly inform you.  But we don't have those at this stage.  But we'll check when we'll get a further update on that.  Regarding visas, of course, in many countries, we have to follow the basic procedures in terms of making sure that all of our personnel get visas.  We follow that up always with the local authorities, and we would encourage them to move as expeditiously as they can so that our officials can go about their work.

Question:  On the Burundian peacekeepers, I guess I wanted to know, first, what would be the connection between the find… the findings and… and this rotation or increased… or continued deployment?  And what does the Secretary-General or DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) and Mr. Ladsous say to the recommendation of the independent panel that the UN not continue using Burundian peacekeepers in CAR?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we evaluate contributions from countries on a case-by-case basis, but what we look at… we always take into account input on issues like human rights, and we've done that, as you know, with our use of troops from Burundi.  And we'll continue to look into specific cases and see whether deployments are warranted and can be performed with the people we're receiving.

Question:  Will you say publicly whether there are six Burundians who either are in the process of being vetted or are in the process of being sent back?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, when… we'll certainly confirm if people get sent back.  Obviously, people go through vetting procedures, and once we come to a conclusion, if it's insufficient, we'll repatriate.  Yes?

Question:  Yes.  Is the Secretary-General planning or considering a visit to Western Sahara or any of the refugee camps during this trip?  And, if not, can you indicate why not?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you… you're aware of the travel he's had even earlier this year.  In this case, he has concentrated on visiting Marrakesh for the 22nd Conference of Parties, COP22.  After he's done there, he actually is having to depart for an official visit to France.  So he will be traveling to Paris tomorrow.

Question:  So the answer is no?  It was never on the agenda?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, it was never on the schedule.  Neither a trip to Rabat nor to Western Sahara was on the schedule.  It was just to Marrakesh for the Conference of Parties and then onwards to Paris.  Yes, Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I have a few questions.  First, I asked Stéphane Dujarric last week about the Palestinian child, Ahmed Al Manasra, who was sentenced to 12 years in jail.  He's now 14, and when he was arrested he was 13.  So he said, "We will look into that, and we'll get back to you."  My second question also that Israel is contemplating the idea of banning calling for a prayer in all the West Bank, inside Israel and East Jerusalem from the loudspeakers.  So is there any position on that?  And, third, also the Israeli Knesset voted this morning… this is the first vote.  There are two more votes… to legalise the illegal outposts.  And when I raised the issue here, he said we don't… Stéphane said, oh, we don't comment on local politics in Israel.  This is not local politics.  It's about legalising the illegal, according to Israeli classification.  They call it illegal, but they want to make it legal now.  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first, just to correct you a little bit, Stéphane wasn't mentioning it as local politics.  It's legislative politics.  Essentially, when a bill comes through a country's legislative process, we don't comment on it as it works its way up the legislative system.  So your second and third questions, both about the noise regulations and about the settlements, have to do with bills that are currently being discussed at the legislative levels.  While that's happening, we will refrain from comment, as we do with… in dealing with legislatures in countries as a rule.  Of course, you're aware of our concerns that all religions be treated with respect, and, of course, you're aware of our concerns that settlement activity is illegal.  And you'll have seen all the relevant resolutions.  Those are our ground rules.  Having said that, these are still bills that are being discussed before legislatures, and we'll let that process go along without our interference.  Regarding your first question about the young Mr. Manasra, of course, we have no specific comment on this case other than our desire to make sure that due process is followed.

Question:  Farhan, may I just have a follow-up?  What makes me raise these issues when there is double standard.  I mean, the Palestinian Central Council of Fatah passed a resolution calling on President [Mahmoud] Abbas to end the security cooperation with Israel.  Abbas, of course, a week later, vetoed that resolution.  However, the Secretary-General did not wait even for Abbas to veto that resolution.  He issued a statement.  That's why I… I call on these things when I see there is here two different set of behaviours.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, yes, and I understand your concerns.  I would just say that there's sometimes a distinction between how we treat actions that involve the executive branch of a government and actions that involve the legislative branch, and we try to respect that division.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi first… oh, sorry, no, Evelyn first.  She's been waiting.  Evelyn and then you.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  You mentioned who talked about 126 attacks against hospitals across Syria.  Did it say if they were by air or on the ground?  And it was… what was the date?  One hundred twenty-six attacks since when?  And I have a follow-up question, yeah.

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe that's since the start of the conflict.  So… oh, sorry, no.  It's throughout the year.  So throughout 2016, just in this year alone, they've documented 126 attacks in all the areas of Syria.

Question:  And they didn't hold anyone accountable or say they were air or on the ground?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I mean, there's been a mixture of ground and air attacks.  In recent days, there has been a rise in aerial attacks, including in Aleppo and Idlib.  And I'm hoping that, in the next day or so, we'll have more to say about that.

Question:  Right.  And I… on Joe's question, you did say that the SG [Secretary-General] discussed Western Sahara.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  He did discuss it with the King.  I just will refer you to the language of the readout.

Question:  And you don't know what… anything on the UN Mission.

Deputy Spokesman:  All I have to tell you is what is in our readout.  Mr. Abbadi and then you afterward.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  You indicated that three states are withdrawn or have withdrawn from the ICC.  Now, as you know, the Foreign Minister of the Russia [Federation] says that he will not ratify the Rome treaty.  Is the Secretary-General not only concerned about these development, other states might follow suit, but does he think that there may be something wrong with the manner in which the court proceeds with the case?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General, as you know, has been speaking up about the question of the International Criminal Court considerably in recent weeks.  You see that he's said that the court is one of the prominent pillars of the system of international law that has been built.  It deserves our full support and he does support it fully and encourages states to support it fully.  At the same time, you'll have seen from the statements he's issued that he's aware of the concerns that states have put forward about the court's work.  He believes that the Assembly of States Parties, which is happening right now as we speak, is the place to discuss these issues and to address it.  But, of course, to discuss it, you have to be a State Party.  So it's important that the more states join up with the court and work through the court and its institutions, the court can be improved.  But that's an improvement that can only really happen through the system that we have of States Parties.  Being outside the court doesn't really help improve the court, and it doesn't help build support for what has been a valuable and, in many ways, a pioneering effort to hold people around the world responsible for major crimes.  Yes?

Question:  Hi.  Mathias Ask, TV2 Norway.  The AP is reporting that the Secretary-General has agreed to a face-to-face meeting with President-elect [Donald] Trump.  Do you know anything more about when such a meeting would take place?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  I think, when they spoke by phone last week, there was a general willingness to stay in contact, and we'll have to see how we can flesh that out.  Of course, these are both people who reside in New York City so… mere minutes away from each other.  So it shouldn't be that hard to arrange if the will is there.  Oleg?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Any comments or reaction from Ban Ki‑moon on the findings of ICC that the US may have committed war crimes and torture in Afghanistan?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I mean, the… this is, of course, part of the work that the court does, and we support the efforts of the court to investigate any such atrocities, wherever they may be held.  It's always good to see the court pursuing these leads, but we'll have to see where they go with that.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask about South Sudan and Yemen, but just on… on this issue of Western Sahara, I wanted to ask you again about this… very specifically about a Western Sahara issue that's arisen since he's there, which is Sulima Baruk, the… from Western Sahara, who was accredited to attend.  So you told me yesterday that you had heard it was being worked out and to ask Mr. [Nick] Nuttall.  So I did ask him again, and he reiterated what he had said last Friday, which is that Morocco said she can't go.  So I'm just wondering, on… what was the basis that you… are we getting two different messages from Mr. Nuttall, or are you reading that as being that it's somehow being worked out on the ground?

Deputy Spokesman:  That they… that is to say, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the officials there, were trying to deal with the authorities, the Moroccan authorities, about this issue.  And if it's resolved the way he said it, that's where it stands.

Correspondent:  Well, it's not… meaning not… she was…

Deputy Spokesman:  He's the one who's dealing with the issue. [Cross talk]

Question:  But I guess I was just asking, have you… both you and Stéphane have said that the Secretary-General stands for the principle that accredited NGOs (non-governmental organizations) can attend, and he did actually meet with the Moroccan authorities.  So did Ban Ki‑moon actually raise this issue or not at all?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I don't have anything to say in terms of the meeting with the King.  I don't know about any other officials.

Question:  Okay.  And can I ask, on South Sudan, yesterday you'd had that… thank… I guess an "if asked" statement about a deceased female found outside the Wau compound.  And I wanted to ask you because there's been further reporting, including statements by the Government there that this was a 13-year-old girl, and she was raped and killed and that she had actually gone out for firewood with her mother.  And you'd said something about the UN offering patrols.  Are you sure in this case that… that… is the idea that there are patrols available, there's security available, and families choose to go out and be raped and killed, or is there some problem with that… those patrols being… and also, it's said that the… those responsible for the raping and killing are army soldiers.  And I'm wondering, what does this trigger in terms of the UN and its… its dealings with the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army)?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, of course, we would need to get further information about whether or not SPLA or other forces were involved in this.  As I pointed out, since early May, female-formed police units from the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) have been providing escort to women and girls who leave the area to look for firewood and other non-food items.  And the Mission continues to encourage community leaders and IDPs (internally displaced people) to use these escorts for their protection.  So we are in touch with communities.  We want them to use these escorts.  There have been cases, including this one, where someone who was not escorted clearly seems to have come to harm.  Those need to be investigated, as we've said.  We've urged local authorities to undertake a rigorous investigation to find the perpetrators of this crime.  And, indeed, if they're found to be uniformed personnel or others, that… we would have to follow up on that accordingly.

Question:  Okay.  Can I… I guess on Yemen… [Cross talk]

Deputy Spokesman:  One more question, and then Evelyn, and then we’ll go to our guest.  Maybe you first and then… [Cross talk}

Question:  Yes, on the Green Wall, who's paying, on the Sahara?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not aware… that's not in the note I have to read, but if you look at the Food and Agriculture Organisation website, it will have additional details.  Yeah?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted… on… on what Secretary [John] Kerry announced yesterday as a ceasefire agreed to by the Houthis, and it's since been said that the GPC (General People’s Congress)/Saleh side also agrees to it and the roadmap, I'm… I wanted to ask you again, because yesterday, and I guess… I think it happened later in the day than the briefing here, at the State Department briefing, the… the briefer, Ms. [Elizabeth] Trudeau, was asked repeatedly why… what was the [Abd Rabbuh Mansur] Hadi position?  And she said… this is a direct quote… she said, "As to the conversations with the Yemeni Government, we believe that's the role of the UN Special Envoy, and we direct you there."  So I'm wondering, can you state what has been the status of… of Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed's discussions with the Hadi Government and with Mr. Hadi, in particular?  And what is their position on a ceasefire that John Kerry's announced and that two parties have said that they will… would… would or will respect as early as Thursday?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, at this stage, like I say… like I told you yesterday, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed has been travelling throughout the region.  I believe, in more recent days, he's been in Amman, Jordan.  But before that, he had been in Sana'a and in Riyadh, talking with the different parties.  There are assurances on different sides.  I don't want to characterise at this point the position of the Hadi Government.  That's really for them to describe.  But he has had good discussions with Saudi officials and others.  We've been in touch with people throughout the region.  We'll have to see whether a cessation of hostilities takes hold tomorrow, but we've been very encouraged, including by Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts.  And what we'll do is see what happens tomorrow and react accordingly.  But there have been some good signals on… by various sides.

Question:  Was the envoy able to meet with President Hadi when he was in Riyadh?  Because I've heard that he wasn't and he was snubbed.  And can you just… did he meet or not?  If he met, great.  If he didn't, say it.

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I wouldn't call it a snub, but, no, they did not meet.  Okay… Linda, and then we'll go to our guest.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I have a quick, general question.  We know that the UN… regarding Syria, we know, of course, that the UN has been in good contact with the Syrian Government on a variety of issues.  I was just wondering, has there been any or growing connection in terms of reach out… reaching out to, for example, al‑Qaeda rebels, who we know are helping the moderate rebels in Aleppo?  I mean, has there actually been contact, discussions, this kind of thing?

Deputy Spokesman:  We've had contacts with people representing the opposition and with people representing the Government.  I don't believe that there's any specific discussions with groups like al‑Qaeda, which, as you know, are on the consolidated list.  All right.  Let's go to our guest.  Thanks very much.

For information media. Not an official record.