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

17 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.

Good afternoon, everyone.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General is in Paris now, where this evening, he is to be made “Grand Chevalier [Officier] de la Légion d’honneur” by President François Hollande.  He and President Hollande will also have a bilateral meeting.

He arrived in Paris from Marrakech, Morocco, where earlier today, the Secretary‑General met with leaders of the civil society organizations who had wanted to thank him for his determined commitment to fighting climate change.

The Secretary‑General saluted the courage of civil society leaders who had consistently raised their voices on climate change.  He added that in too many countries, civil society was being unfairly attacked and harassed.  And he said that after 1 January, when he is no longer Secretary‑General, he would join his voice to theirs, noting that they had a greater latitude to speak out than political leaders.

The Secretary-General also attended the high‑level event on accelerating climate action, which aims to foster voluntary efforts, initiatives and coalitions on climate.  Over the last two years, the Secretary‑General said at the event, this initiative has demonstrated the power of partnerships to undertake transformational climate action.

Just before leaving Marrakech, the Secretary‑General met with Salaheddine Mezouar, Morocco’s Foreign Minister and President of COP22.  The Secretary‑General thanked him for hosting and organizing a very successful conference.

**Central African Republic

This morning, the Deputy Secretary‑General, Jan Eliasson, participated in the donors conference for the Central African Republic in Brussels.  The Central African Government and the international community signed a Framework of Mutual Accountability.

Mr. Eliasson said that the Central African Republic is at a crossroads and that we need to do all we can to support and unite the forces of good in the country.  He stressed that peace and security, recovery, development, stabilization and human rights must go hand in hand and noted the need for progress on the political front and for dialogue.  But without the rule of law, he said, stabilization efforts will be futile.

Noting that the Central African Republic has suffered in the past from a lack of international attention, he stressed that, more than ever, its people need engagement and long‑term support.  Mr. Eliasson said the UN would do its part and reaffirmed its commitment to support the Central African people.  Stressing that our collective success is within reach, he called on the international community to provide the necessary political and financial support to the country.

**Iraq

Today marks one month of intensified military operations to retake the city of Mosul in Iraq.  With tens of thousands of families in newly retaken areas urgently requiring life‑saving assistance, the humanitarian community in Iraq faces massive needs, and these latest developments further exacerbate a humanitarian crisis in a country where 10 million people already were in need of aid.

Nearly 59,000 people have been displaced, about 26,000 of them children.  In support of the Government of Iraq, the United Nations and non‑governmental organizations (NGOs) have begun to provide assistance to displaced and resident families in newly retaken areas.  More than 40,000 displaced people have found shelter in formal camps in three governorates prepared and managed by the Government, the United Nations and NGOs.

The United Nations and NGOs are grateful for the support they have received from donors but urgently need additional resources to support the tens of thousands of families who need help.  With winter approaching, and temperatures dramatically dropping at night, families, many who fled their homes with virtually nothing, need heaters, blankets and other winter items.

And the humanitarian community calls on all parties to the conflict to do their utmost to protect the rights and lives of civilians and uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law.

The UN humanitarian community in Iraq has issued a press release today on the situation in Mosul, which you can find online.

We had also tried to have Lise Grande, the Humanitarian Coordinator, as the guest today’s briefing but the arrangements didn’t work.  We will see whether we can get her later.

**Syria

The members of the Humanitarian Task Force (HTF) met today in Geneva to review progress on humanitarian access to besieged and hard‑to‑reach areas of Syria, notably in relation to the UN’s inter‑agency convoy plan for November.  The meeting, chaired by the Deputy Special Envoy, Ramzy Ezzeldine Ramzy, took note of the humanitarian impact of the intensified violence in various parts of northern Syria over the past week, such as in Aleppo, Raqqa and Idlib governorates, among others.  It was regretted that no UN inter‑agency cross‑line convoys were able to proceed so far in November.

Task Force members reiterated their commitment to enabling the UN and partners to reach all those in need with humanitarian assistance in a safe, sustained, unconditional and unimpeded manner, including in besieged eastern Aleppo city.

Meanwhile, we are extremely concerned about reports that aerial bombardment has intensified on eastern Aleppo and the western Aleppo countryside over the past 48 hours.  These attacks have reportedly cost dozens of lives and damaged civilian infrastructure, including health facilities and schools, with two medical facilities reportedly damaged this morning.  More than anything, what we urgently need is for the parties to the conflict to immediately work towards a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire in order to alleviate the huge levels of civilian suffering, not only in Aleppo but across the country.

**UNRWA

In a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary‑General welcomed the announcement yesterday by the Government of Canada that it was resuming support to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) by donating CDN $25 million for the essential health, education, relief and social services and humanitarian programmes that the Agency undertakes for the benefit of 5.3 million Palestine refugees.

The Secretary‑General stated that, at a time of great instability in the Middle East, Canada’s generous donation will assist UNRWA in its efforts to ensure that vital human development and humanitarian services continue to be delivered to vulnerable Palestine refugees.

The Secretary‑General takes this occasion to underline once again that UNRWA should receive sufficient funding from the international community to carry out its activities effectively and in a predictable manner until a just and lasting solution is found to the underlying conflict.

**Haiti

From Haiti, the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General, Sandra Honoré, and the members of the “Core Group” call on all Haitians to exercise their constitutional right to vote on 20 November, Sunday.

As you may know, the Special Representative, the Ambassadors of Brazil, Canada, France, the United States, the European Union and the Special Representative of the Organization of American States form the Core Group.

They acknowledged the measures taken by the national authorities to facilitate the holding of peaceful, inclusive and transparent elections, despite the challenges following Hurricane Matthew.

They stress that Sunday’s vote will mark a critical step towards the return to full Constitutional order in Haiti and hope that all actors will continue to make constructive contributions to ensure a serene climate that allows all citizens to freely choose their political representatives.  The full statement is available online.

**IAEA

The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano, addressed the body’s Board of Governors today in Vienna.

On Iran, he said that the IAEA continues to verify and monitor the country’s implementation of its nuclear‑related commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

He also expressed serious concern over the nuclear programme of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), which has conducted two more nuclear tests this year.

Mr. Amano again called on the country to comply fully with its obligations under Security Council resolutions and to cooperate promptly with the IAEA.

You can read his full statement on the IAEA’s website.

**Press Briefings

The guest at the Noon Briefing tomorrow will be Adama Dieng, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, who will speak to the press after briefing the Security Council on South Sudan.  That briefing will happen this afternoon.

**Questions and Answers

That’s it for me.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Some reports indicate that Philippines would be the next State to withdraw from the ICC (International Criminal Court).  Do you have any information or confirmation of that?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have not received anything formal from the Philippines.  We are aware of the media reports, however.  And as you’re aware, we have urged the countries who are States Parties to remain within the system and work within the system.  As you know, there’s an Assembly of States Parties happening right now.  And we do believe… the Secretary‑General firmly believes that, if there are objections to the way the court has been working, that Assembly of States Parties is where they can take the time and the opportunity to address any failings of the court and improve its work.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about Yemen again.  You’d said, like, let’s wait and see if the ceasefire takes hold, and it seems like it has not taken hold.  Many people are reporting that.  And… and the [Abd Rabbuh Mansur] Hadi Government had said openly now, not through the Envoy but through their own Foreign Minister, that they don’t accept the ceasefire.  So I wondered, number one, what’s the UN’s state of knowledge of… of… of where that proposal stands?  How many people have been killed?  And, two, is the UN calling on Pres… on… on exile President Hadi to… to sign up to the ceasefire?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly, we want all parties to agree to a cessation of hostilities, and this is something that the Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, has been working towards.  As you know, there have been other efforts that we’ve been encouraging, including the effort of the US Secretary of State, John Kerry.  From our standpoint, it would be a welcome development if that could work into an actual implemented cessation of hostilities on the ground, but we have not seen any sign that that’s happening so far.  I’m in touch with the team, and if we get something more about what’s happening on the ground, we would respond accordingly.  But, for now, he will continue with his work, and we’ll continue to encourage other interested involved countries to continue to work with the various parties trying to bring us to a lasting cessation of hostilities.

Question:  Do you know if… or maybe you can find this out.  Do you know if he’s proposing to create a… an ASG (Assistant Secretary‑General) position in… in his, I guess, mediation office for Mr. Gluck, is proposing that to ACABQ (Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions) and, if so, what the rationale would be given how… given the current success rate of the office?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the success rate of a diplomatic effort can’t be gauged at any particular moment.  A process evolves, and certainly, he has had some progress in recent weeks with the various parties in terms of getting together a plan for a way forward on Yemen.  Where we go with that, ultimately, is in the hands of the parties, but he is moving ahead.  I wouldn’t have anything formal to announce about the office at this stage.  Yes.  Yes, Evelyn?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  In Syria, was that the only children’s hospital in what area that the Syrian army managed… air force managed to wipe out?

Deputy Spokesman:  I’ll check what the status of that facility was.  There were two facilities that were hit.

Question:  The blood bank and the children’s hospital.  But is that… is that a war crime?  And…

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the targeting of medical institutions, if they are being targeted would constitute a war crime.

Question:  They were targeted.

Deputy Spokesman:  But we’ll have to see whether there’s any more details we can get about the attack on the children’s hospital.

Question:  Okay.  Secondly, on the IAEA director, did he mention anything about heavy water around… using that he did earlier in the week?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, he did.  Mr. Amano noted that, for the second time since the start of the implementation of the Plan, Iran’s inventory of heavy water exceeded 130 metric tons, but it has since made preparations to transfer a quantity of heavy water out of the country, under IAEA verification and monitoring.  And there’s further details in his speech.  Benny?

Question:  Yes.  Speaking of UNRWA, so 11 November, when was that?  That was…

Deputy Spokesman:  November 11th?  That was last week.

Question:  Yeah.  So Robert Piper made a statement about how Israel is blocking aid to the Palestinians, saying, “targeting the most vulnerable and preventing them from receiving relief especially as the winter sets is unacceptable,” so on and so forth.  However, according to this article in The Wall Street Journal, there is a large shortage of donors to the Palestinian Authority that was supposed to come as a result of the war in Gaza, and stepping in was Israel:  “Using that mechanism, Israel so far this year has transferred about 1 billion shekel to 262 millions or nearly 8 per cent of Palestinian… total Palestinian Authority revenues in one-off payments to the Authority, according to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF).”  So how do you explain this discrepancy between the UN, Robert Piper, saying, you know, that… that Israel is blocking aid and so on and so forth and the World Bank’s and Monetary… International… IMF reports that say that actually Israel is the only one that’s actually stepping up to save the Palestinian Authority?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we certainly appreciate any Israeli efforts to help fund the Palestinian Authority.  That’s a crucial thing.  What Mr. Piper is talking about includes things like basic access to Gaza, and we’ve been calling for some time for our ability to provide the sort of assets and facilities that Gaza needs for its reconstruction.  So the two things are actually compatible tasks.  We want both things to happen.

Question:  So, basically, the… the… what you’re complaining about is blocking goods from entering Gaza?  Is that what it is?  I mean…

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I’d refer you back to the full text of what he was saying.  But we’ve had concerns about the ability for basic travel, including normal commercial travel and other sorts of access that’s needed for the reconstruction of the area.

Question:  According to the World Bank’s report, however, it… it… one thing that Israel has done is increasing the number of workers that were able to go across the Gaza border and work in Israel and the West Bank, in order to help the Palestinian Authority.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, like I said, any steps of progress that we have in terms of the dealings between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are welcome.  But we also still do want, as we’ve said for many years now, a restoration of regular commercial traffic.

Correspondent:  Except it’s not reflected in the Robert Piper statement, what you’re saying now.

Deputy Spokesman:  He makes many statements, but when we have concerns, from time to time, that is what we will air out.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Yeah.  On this… the construction that is being legalized by the… process is going through, legalized.  I’m sure the Secretary‑General has spoken and you have given any statement on that particular thing, legalization of this, what do you call, all the settlements?

Deputy Spokesman:  As I pointed out to some of your colleagues yesterday, this is a bill that’s going through the legislative process.  We don’t really comment on legislation as it’s going through that process.  That’s still an internal process inside the country.  You’re, of course, clearly aware of what our concerns are of settlements, and that stands.  But we’ll let the legislative process take its own course.

Question:  But the process is going through, and we know what is the ultimate goal of the process, to legalize these settlements, which are illegal, according to international law.  So how would you deem that now?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, international law stands, and it remains what it is.  Having said that, legislative processes are complex internal workings inside a government, and we’re not having any particular comment about that.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, again, about… in Myanmar, the Rohingya, there are now groups saying that over 100 have been killed in this most recent military action and that there are also several hundred people stranded on the border of Bangladesh, mostly women and children, seeking to cross.  I wanted to know if the UN system… one, if they can verify these numbers and, two, if they’re doing anything, including calling on the Government of Bangladesh to allow these people who are being pursued by the Government to flee.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as I’ve been saying in recent days, with the reports of the escalating violence that we continue to remain concerned by the situation in northern Rakhine as well as by the fresh reports of violence in recent days.  Because of lack of access, the UN hasn’t been able to verify the reports.  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.  We also call upon the authorities of Myanmar to investigate the reports of violence in accordance with the law.  Yes?

Question:  Can I ask another Myanmar question?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, hold on.  Yes, you.

Question:  Yes, [inaudible] from NHK.  Follow‑up question to the ICC and the… you mentioned that you haven’t confirmed if Philippines withdraw or not but the… actually, the third… first of the third, the countries has not engaged in this organization for justice.  So what do you think that the UN should do to maintain that this international society for justice?  And the next question is, as you know, this afternoon, Donald Trump will meet with Japanese Prime Minister and the… of course, yesterday, that you mention that the UN Secretary‑General also will meet with Donald Trump.  And what does UN want him to convey the message through such a bilat… of course, it’s a bilateral meeting, but for him to convey the message to international society?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding the meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister, we wouldn’t have any specific comment.  Of course, we always welcome the longstanding and positive relationship between the United States and Japan.  Regarding the States that are dealing with the International Criminal Court, our basic point is this.  This is a strong, in many ways, path‑breaking international institution, one of the very first that can really hold different parties and even leaders accountable for the worst international crimes.  It deserves our whole‑hearted support.  If there are problems with the court, if countries have any real grievance about a perception of bias, what we encourage is for them to work it out within the system, that is to say, within the Assembly of States Parties.  That, in many ways, calls for greater, more engaged participation, not for non‑participation.  Non‑participation will not help make a more effective court and will not help to address the problems.  What we need is something that is strong and that will work, and it can be improved.  But as it is, it’s an effort that has long embodied our desires to make sure that you have a more just and more fair world.  Yeah?

Correspondent:  Follow up on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Sure.  Benny and then Matthew after.

Question:  So… so what does it take to see that there’s a problem?  Now that you have the Philippines, Russia, three African countries and… you know, leaving and some of the major countries in the world, US, China, are not even in, what would it take to see that there’s a systemic problem there that may not be working?

Deputy Spokesman:  It’s clear, from what the leaders have said, that there are many, many governments who believe that there’s a problem.  What we’re saying is:  “What you do with that is to work to improve the system.  That can be done.  The way the Rome Statute is set up, there are ways, including the format of the Assembly of States Parties, where you can actually work to address the perceived failings of the court”.  When it comes to the perception that African nations, for example, have been unfairly targeted, part of what that can… part of what needs to happen is for the court to be able to show its work in a variety of fields, so that it’s not just one set of countries or one region that feels that they are the objective of the court’s work.  But beyond that, what we’re calling for is, like I said, greater participation, greater involvement in the work of the court.  The Assembly of States Parties is going on right now, and it can be used as a valuable tool to reform and address the sort of complaints that they’ve had.

Question:  So would advertising, as the ICC did last week, that it launches an investigation of US troops in Afghanistan in 2003‑2004, is that sort of meant to convey that… that impression, that it’s not only Africa, that we’re after everybody, even though it’s futile, obviously?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the thing is, I don’t speak for the court’s prosecutor.  I can’t attest to how they go about their work.  Obviously, they’re free to go about their work as they so choose.  But what is essential for us is that all Member States see that their collective interests are served by the existence and the performance and the effectiveness of the court.  It’s a step forward for international justice and for the rule of law, and we need it to be supported in that light.  Yes, you and then Masood.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask about DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo).  But my second question on Myanmar was, it’s now eight days ago that… when Stéphane [Dujarric] asked, I sent him links, including to a Myanmar Government website, about Ban Ki‑moon’s brother through KD Power, engaged in mining in the country, and with Bosung Powertec, engaged in a tour with a visiting UN delegation.  So I’m just wondering, this… the South Korean mission also asked me for the same links, and I gave them to them.  I’m not sure in what capacity they asked for them, but it seems like… what is the answer on the brother of the Secretary‑General engaged in financial activity in Myanmar as part of a UN visiting delegation?  Have you determined what was his role in what the Government says is a UN delegation?

Deputy Spokesman:  I haven’t any information about him participating in any UN work.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Yes, Farhan.  On this President‑elect Donald Trump’s statement that he will move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem, what is the position of the United Nations and the Secretary‑General on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  You’re well aware of the relevant resolutions on the status of Jerusalem, and those stand.  Beyond that, I wouldn’t have any comment on this.

Question:  I mean, the resolutions that stand… that means that it’s illegal.  Right?

Deputy Spokesman:  I would just refer you to the text of the resolutions.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  We haven’t heard anything if… regarding the discussions on the transition between the Ban Ki‑moon administration and that of the Secretary‑General‑designate, António Guterres.  How are these discussions proceeding?  What are they covering?  And what… at what level?

Deputy Spokesman:  The discussions are going on.  The transition team is going about their work.  I don’t have the ability to speak for the transition team.  At some point, I assume that they’ll be able to keep reporters apprised of the work that they’re doing.  But we don’t have anything formal to announce from them, but certainly, they are meeting.  They’re discerning what their needs in the future are.  As far as I can tell, they’ve been having very productive talks.  Linda?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Again, a question about possible meetings.  I’m sorry if I missed this, but has some kind of a date been set for a possible meeting between the SG and Mr. Trump?  And I have… and also a question of protocol.  Is there a protocol in terms of, if and when there is a meeting, that the Secretary‑General will go to see him or the President will come and see the SG?

Deputy Spokesman:  The answer to both of your questions is, essentially, I don’t have any information for you on this, which is to say, right now, nothing is scheduled, and I don’t know who will meet whom where, but we will let you know once something is set up.  Yes?

Question:  How about the 21 Club? [Laughter]

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you on… on the DRC, maybe you’ll have some statement.  President [Joseph] Kabila has said two things.  He said, number one, that he has no intention of standing down, even as his second term expires in December.  He’s also named what he called an opposition figure as a Prime Minister, which most of the opposition says the guy is not an opposition figure, Mr. [Sammy] Badibanga.  So I wanted to know what is… given the UN has had a billion‑dollar peacekeeping mission in the country for the last decade, what is its view of this move, both of… of… does it think this is a… this is a… designed to… to prevent violence?  And is Mr. Badibanga, in fact, an opposition figure or… or… what is the UN’s role… what’s MONUSCO’s (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) role as these events move toward what many people say is a showdown?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, our basic point is that we want to make sure that all the groups who are not currently involved in the national dialogue become part of that dialogue.  We want it to be as inclusive as possible, as widely embracing as possible, and we hope that there are no proceedings that hinder the effort to have that kind of broadly inclusive sense of a national dialogue.  Yes.  Yes, you.

Question:  On Syria, do we know who hit the hospitals?  Was it the Syrian military or Russia?  Because it was… it did come from an air… [Cross talk]

Deputy Spokesman:  It’s not determined but it’s… there’s some indications that it was from aerial attack, but I don’t have anything definitive.  Have a good afternoon…

Question:  On COP22, could I just… I just want to get… the final question.  The… the… the… this… this NGO issue that went around and around, it seems like the person didn’t get there.  Mr. [Nick] Nuttall said his last communication was the last one.  So I just… maybe you can… maybe you’ll know it or you can say.  What, if anything, did the Secretariat do once… since more than a week ago the person was blocked to request to Morocco that an accredited NGO attend the conference?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was dealing with the local authorities trying to see what could be done about this.  Beyond that, I’d refer you again to Mr. Nuttall.  Have a good afternoon.  Oh, wait.  Yes?

Question:  Sorry.  Follow‑up question for Mr. Trump and the Secretary‑General’s meeting:  Do you think that the possibility is high or low that before Thanksgiving, I mean next week, that meeting will be carried out or at least that before the swearing ceremony of the… Mr. Guterres next month?

Deputy Spokesman:  I never make predictions about timing.  It will work out when it does.  Have a good afternoon.

For information media. Not an official record.