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

18 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 Travels

The Secretary-General wrapped up his visit to Paris today, where yesterday evening, he received the Legion of Honor from President François Hollande.

The Secretary-General said that it was the United Nations that was being honored, expressing his gratitude on behalf of the Organization.

He voiced his appreciation of the essential role that France plays in the work of the United Nations in the areas of human rights, climate change, the promotion of peace and security, and sustainable development.

This morning, the Secretary-General paid a farewell visit to UNESCO, where he thanked its staff for their hard work in preserving the world’s global cultural heritage in the face of increasing attacks.

He also noted that the first books he studied as a child growing up in the aftermath of the Korean War were provided by UNESCO, adding that he learned more than reading and math – he learned solidarity.

The Secretary-General held a working lunch with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

Speaking to the press afterwards with the Foreign Minister, the Secretary-General thanked France for its support of the United Nations throughout his tenure.

He voiced confidence that the Government and the people of France will continue to support the work of the United Nations, as well as his successor, Antonio Guterres, in its mission to build a better world for all.

The Secretary-General is now on his way back to New York.

**Climate Change

The United Nations Climate Conference, or COP22, is wrapping up in Marrakech, Morocco, today.

On Tuesday, the Secretary-General and Heads of State and Government took part in the first meeting of Parties to the Paris Agreement, as you know.  The leaders issued a Marrakech Action Proclamation to signal a shift towards a new era of implementation.

The Conference launched a Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action to further scale up cooperative efforts in which businesses, sub-national and local governments and civil society team up with national governments to promote low-emission and resilient development.

In response to these and other advances, the Secretary-General said that the spirit of global cooperation that we saw in Paris last year is stronger than ever, adding that he is heartened by the enthusiastic determination shown by all countries to realize the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

Many significant announcements were made at COP22 towards greater ambition and new cooperative ventures.  This morning, 48 of the countries most vulnerable to climate impact issued a Marrakech Communiqué pledging to green their economies by aiming for carbon neutrality and 100 per cent renewable energy production as soon as possible.

Welcoming the Communiqué from the Climate Vulnerable Forum, the Secretary-General applauded the initiative by many of the world’s most vulnerable countries to lead by example and move towards a low-energy, clean-energy, climate-resilient future.

He said that this is the type of bold leadership by example the world needs right now on climate change.  If countries that have done the least to cause climate change can take such strong steps, so can others.  We need action by all, on behalf of all.

**Syria

The UN is deeply concerned by the hostilities in Aleppo city in Syria, including reports of intensified aerial bombardment and indiscriminate shelling.  These attacks reportedly continue to result in death, injury and displacement to scores of civilians, as well as damage to civilian infrastructure.

The eastern part of the city remains inaccessible to humanitarian workers, where an estimated 275,000 people remain trapped under horrific conditions.  UN food stocks have finished and health and other stocks are running dangerously low in the city.  The UN has not been able to reach the eastern part of the city since July.

**Iraq

Our humanitarian colleagues say that after one month of military operations to retake Mosul in Iraq from Da’esh, almost 60,000 people have been registered as displaced and this number goes up every day.

A critical priority for humanitarian organizations is to ensure that camp capacity keeps pace with the growing displacement.  Some 45,000 people are already accommodated in camps and a further 47,000 displaced people can be accommodated in camps.  Construction at other sites is accelerating to create capacity for an additional 453,000 people.

Up until now, emergency response missions close to the front lines have reached over 69,000 people with emergency food, water and basic hygiene items.

In terms of funding of the response, as of 17 November, $183 million had been confirmed for the Mosul Flash Appeal, representing 65 per cent of the $284 million requested.  

Humanitarian partners are also seeking funding for the 2016 Iraq Humanitarian Response Plan, which was launched in January. The plan requests $861 million to support 7.3 million vulnerable Iraqis across the country.  To date, 69 per cent of this requirement has been received.

**African Union

The Security Council is meeting on the cooperation between the UN and regional organizations including the African Union.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General to the African Union, Haile Menkerios, told the Council that the conflicts we face in Africa today have grown in scale and complexity, posing a greater threat to international peace and security.

A review of UN-AU partnership so far, characterized by a widening series of ad-hoc collaborative engagements, amply demonstrates that it is time the two organizations move towards a more structured, systematic and predictable partnership.

In that context, Mr. Menkerios stressed that predictable and sustainable funding remains a major challenge for the African Union.

His full remarks are available.

**South Sudan

Yesterday the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in South Sudan, Ellen Margrethe Løj, briefed the Security Council.  She warned that the deterioration of the economy and the increasingly fragmented conflict, often with ethnic undertones, have placed the country on a potential downward slide towards greater divisiveness and risk of a full-scale civil conflict.

She called on the Transitional Government to do more to put an end to security incidents that contribute to an environment of instability and violence, lead to displacement and exacerbate the already dire humanitarian situation.  She said:  “The guns have to be silenced if the suffering of the people is not going to become even more dire.”

And the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, also briefed the Council.

Mr. Dieng will be my guest here in a few minutes. He will come on after this part is done.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

In a statement we issued yesterday evening, the Secretary-General took note of the appointment of Samy Badibanga as Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The Secretary-General welcomed this first concrete step in the implementation of the 18 October political agreement, which is expected to culminate in the holding of credible elections in the country.

That statement has been shared with you.

Still on the DRC, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour, will visit the country from 21 to 26 November 2016.  He will be holding meetings with national and local authorities, civil society and UN partners in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Goma. 

**Central African Republic

Following the donors’ conference on the Central African Republic that took place yesterday, the UN Mission in the country (MINUSCA) welcomed the announcement that donors had committed over 2 billion dollars to fund the recovery and peacebuilding plan.

The Special Representative for the Central African Republic, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, noted that this marked a day of hope and trust of the international community in the Central African Republic, its people and Government.

And speaking in Geneva today, the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, also welcomed the strong support for the Central African Republic shown in Brussels.

**Nigeria

In Nigeria, our colleagues from the World Food Programme (WFP) and UNICEF are rolling out a rapid response mechanism to deliver food, health and nutrition services in difficult-to-reach areas in Borno and Yobe States – the two states worst affected by hunger and malnutrition in north-eastern Nigeria.

This is part of WFP’s larger response plan – to gradually scale up to reach 1.8 million people with urgent food and nutrition support throughout 2017.  Food insecurity has reached an extreme level in parts of north-eastern Nigeria, where 4.6 million people are going hungry.  Without urgent support, hunger will only deepen.

Since August, the number of people needing urgent food assistance has increased from about 1 million to 1.8 million in Borno and Yobe States.

**Madagascar

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) called once again today for more urgent support to farmers in southern Madagascar, hit by three years of devastating drought.

$67 million are needed in food aid and farming support for the upcoming planting season.

FAO will start distributing plant cuttings and seeds next month, targeting some 170,000 farming families in the most food-insecure districts of the south.

Overall, some 1.4 million people are estimated to be food insecure in the three southern regions of the island.

**Malaria

The world’s first malaria vaccine will be rolled out in pilot projects in sub-Saharan Africa, the World Health Organization confirmed yesterday.

The vaccine, known as RTS,S, acts against P. falciparum, the most deadly malaria parasite globally, and the one most prevalent in Africa.

Advanced clinical trials have shown RTS,S to provide partial protection against malaria in young children.

More information is available on WHO’s website.

**Myanmar

From Geneva, our colleagues at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) today expressed their deep concern over the safety and well-being of civilians in the northern part of Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

UNHCR urges the Government of Myanmar to ensure the protection and dignity of all civilians on its territory in accordance with the rule of law and its international obligations.

UNHCR urges the Government to immediately allow aid workers to resume their life-saving activities.  The workers had been helping some 160,000 civilians until their activities were suspended in early October.

It also calls on the Government of Bangladesh to keep its border with Myanmar open and to allow safe passage to any civilians fleeing the violence in Myanmar.

**Colombia

From our Mission in Colombia, the Tripartite Mechanism that monitors and verifies the bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities is investigating two incidents in the country, including one that took place on November 13 in the northern municipality of Santa Rosa and resulted in the death of two FARC-EP members.

The Mechanism deeply regrets and expresses concern about the first deaths since the beginning of the bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities, on August 29.

The UN Mission in Colombia stresses the importance of the parties’ commitment to the ceasefire and their full assistance to the work of the joint Mechanism.

Fifty-six new international observers have arrived this week, the majority of them from the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and also from Portugal, Spain, and Sweden.

**Honduras

I would also like to flag the visit to Honduras from 21 to 24 November of the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore for the official opening of the UN Human Rights Office in the country.

During her visit, she will meet President Juan Orlando Hernández to express her appreciation for his engagement, and will meet civil society organizations.

**Toilet Day

Tomorrow is World Toilet Day, which seeks to raise awareness to address the global sanitation crisis, a topic often neglected and shrouded in taboos.

In his message, the Secretary-General notes that this year’s Day focuses on ‘toilets and jobs,’ spotlighting the impact of the lack of sanitation on livelihoods and work environments.

Activities promoting this Goal are taking place around the world, including at the Global Citizen Festival tomorrow in Mumbai, India.

On Monday, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson will deliver the keynote address at the official World Toilet Day event at UNICEF House here in New York.

Are there any questions for me before we go on to our guest?  Yes, Eddie.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Is the Secretary‑General satisfied with the communique that was adopted in Marrakech, does he think it should have gone further in light of the recent reports on the speed of global warming?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly, the reports on the speed of global warming are a cause for alarm and the world needs to decide how to respond to it.  But, as I mentioned just now, what happened in Marrakech affirms and consolidates the spirit of global cooperation that we saw in Paris and it is our best effort right now to move ahead in actually dealing with the problems posed by climate change. 

We may have more of a reaction from the Secretary‑General, but I just refer you back to what he said recently where he talked about the sort of bold leadership by example that the world needs right now on climate change that was shown by the world's most vulnerable countries just earlier today when they pledged to green their own economies and aim for carbon neutrality:  that is a very ambitious step above and beyond what the Paris agreement had said and he wants other countries to follow that kind of ambition. 

Yes, Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Do you know if the French initiative to hold an international conference on the Palestinian‑Israeli conflict has been discussed between the French Foreign Minister and the Secretary‑General?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, what I can tell you, in addition to meeting the Foreign Minister right now - and we put out the remarks that he did afterwards which described his meeting - but, in addition to that, the Secretary‑General did meet as I mentioned last night with President Hollande.  Among the topics they discussed were climate change, peacekeeping, the situation in Syria and the situation in the Middle East. So that was one of the topics raised.  Joe.

Question:  In the last number of days there has been discussion, and President Obama referred to it in his press conference in Germany and in other discussions of so‑called fake news dissemination of alleged falsehoods on social media.  Google and Facebook have indicated that they intend to take some steps to curb the so‑called fake news.  I'm wondering what the Secretary‑General's comment is on that and how in his mind he would balance - or there should be a balance and where the balance is - between robust free expression particularly on the Internet versus dissemination of falsehoods and that could lead to unintended consequences.  Where does he think the balance lies?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, it's a difficult question when you get to the minutiae of it, but the basic principle is that we stand as you can see through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with the principles of freedom of expression and freedom of the media, balanced against that, of course, it's the responsibility of those who avail themselves of that right to exercise it with responsibility -- that ultimately there needs to be responsible factual reporting.  You don't disseminate things that are knowingly false. 

Our problems are more if people disseminate information that can be used to spread incitement to violence or to spread hate.  You have seen that the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda took that up as one of the problems dealing with media outlets that had encouraged the slaughter of Tutsis in Rwanda, and this is the sort of dangerous communication that needs to be avoided.  But, in general, the principle is that - what we want to make sure is - that the protections for freedom of expression and for freedom of the media are robust around the world.

Question:  Well, I guess what I was trying to get at is certainly I think everyone would agree that each user of the Internet social media should exercise responsibility.  That is kind of a self‑enforced discipline.  What I'm getting at is where does the Secretary‑General think the line should be drawn either in Governments or providers of social media services like Google and Facebook that have enormous market power given their size and scope to themselves decide what is fake news and take that off social media versus determining that the information is not so egregious that it should be removed?

Deputy Spokesman:  That is actually a fairly complex task and as you notice, it comprises many moving parts, Governments, media outlets, disseminators of media websites, they will have to work with each other on this.  We will be following those discussions as they proceed; and, of course, the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, will play a role in terms of monitoring how that develops. 

Yes, Masood.

Question:  Yeah, Farhan, on this John Kerry's Yemen peace plan.  It seems the Houthis have signed on to it but the Hadi Government seems to reject it and Jan Eliasson in Geneva said that it has some merit but it seems that the plan is already dead because the Saudi‑backed Government is rejecting it.  Where do you think the United Nations stands right now?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you referred to Mr. Eliasson and you're right, he did refer to this.  What I can tell you, and this is from his press remarks in Geneva today on Yemen.  He did say:  “We are working very closely with Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region who can influence the situation.  We have discovered stronger and stronger views that this has to come to an end but we have to bring them back to the negotiations table.  For the time being, we are not able to say that both sides accept it.”

Question:  But the thing is, I mean, it doesn't seem that the Houthi Government backed by Saudi Arabia is going to agree.  I mean, they want their way or the highway?

Deputy Spokesman:  It has been a frustrating process.  There have been steps forward and steps backward, but we are working with the parties including with Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region and we will try to make a progress getting the parties back to the table.  Yes.

Question:  Yes, sure, some other stuff but on that, I wanted to ask you this:  I heard actually from within the Office of Children and Armed Conflict that the idea of putting Saudi Arabia back on the list is dead until March, and Stéphane said it's not, that is not his understanding.  So I guess I wanted to ask you:  if the Secretariat needs Saudi Arabia or is working closely with Saudi Arabia to try to get these talks back on track, can you see why, what is the relation, would putting them on the list be viewed as helpful in that way or is this one of the reasons that a decision I've heard has been made to leave it until the next report comes out in March?  Can you provide a specific… what is the process to consider putting Saudi Arabia for the death of those children back on the list?

Deputy Spokesman:  That depends upon the information that is accumulated by the Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict and her Office.  The work of that Office is separate and apart from the work of the Special Envoy dealing with Yemen so they go about that without having to consider how the one affect the other.

Question:  When is the last time Saudi Arabia provided new information about the deaths that led to them being listed on the list?

Deputy Spokesman:  We haven't received new information recently, but we continue to be in dialogue with them and they have asked for that dialogue and our door is open.  Yes.

Question:  The same topic… Two things, do you have any updates on the humanitarian front in Yemen? And, regarding the list, when… you keep saying that it's a work in process but when was the last meeting and what is the last update?

Deputy Spokesman:  There have not been any recent meetings between the Office and the Saudi authorities.  You have seen the meetings the Secretary‑General has had on this and I'd refer you to the readouts of his own meetings with Saudi officials where he has brought this topic up.  Similarly the Office does continue to be in contact with the Saudis so the review is ongoing, it has not concluded, but neither can we define a point at which it will be done. 

Regarding a humanitarian update, you have seen the periodic humanitarian updates we have given from here.  I don't have anything particularly new to say, but of course this is a very serious situation.  There is basically 21 million people in humanitarian need in Yemen and we have talked repeatedly about the problems involved in providing them with the assistance that they need but our efforts continue in that regard.  Stefano.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I'm sorry because I wasn't here around so maybe you already commented, but it's on the moratorium on the use of the death penalty vote.  Did the Secretary‑General - I mean, the vote yes [by] 115 votes – was it what he expected, was he expecting something more, any surprise, any comment?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we don't comment in particular on vote totals.  Of course, we are very glad to see a broad number of Member States approve the idea of a moratorium, which is an idea that is one of those that he has tried to encourage among all Member States.  You're aware of what our views on capital punishment are and it's good to see the endorsement of that in the General Assembly. 

Abdelhamid, and then you.

Question:  Going back to Yemen, Farhan, today the US Secretary of State announced a ceasefire with the Houthis.  The official Government got annoyed and they asked for an apology because they never have been consulted on that.  And Mr. Kerry or his team said that should be communicated to the Yemeni Government by the UN Special Envoy.  So there is miscommunication here and how can Secretary of the State announce a ceasefire when one party to the conflict doesn't know anything about it?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't speak for what the Secretary of State says.  That - you will have to talk to the US side on.  Regarding the UN side, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed has been in touch with the various parties.  As you know in recent days he has traveled through the region including to Riyadh and to Sana’a talking to officials of the Saudi authorities, of the Ansar Allah Group, of the General National Congress and so he is trying to build support for that.  He has also been in touch with the representatives of the Hadi Government.  It is difficult trying to get them to the final spot where they are all accepting a cessation of hostilities, but we are working towards that end. 

Yes.

Question:  I want to ask you about Burundi but just to follow‑up on that, you said the other day that the Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, did not meet with President Hadi but you declined to say it was a snub.  Given how all sides are now saying it was his role to communicate with Hadi with this plan and get his answer, did the fact that they didn't meet, was this attributable to President Hadi's side or to the UN side?  Outside of any snub, why didn't such a meeting which was obviously important and the US thought would happen, why did it not happen?

Deputy Spokesman:  I wouldn't attribute responsibility one way or the other.  What I would say is that we have been in contact with his side, even if he did not meet directly with President Hadi.

Question:  Okay, I wanted to ask on Burundi, there was a Peacebuilding Configuration meeting this morning and two things, one is the Resident Coordinator Palo Lembo is here in New York, he spoke, he didn't mention anything about the visa issues I've asked you about, so I would like… I guess I want to know like, is there some way that he could do a press conference?  If Burundi is as important as it seems it is to the Secretariat, if the Resident Coordinator is in town, is there some way to have him answer questions particularly on visas?  And the other questions I wanted to ask you is that the Ambassador of Burundi, Albert Shingiro, was there and he referred to a quote “probable constitutional amendment of the Constitution”, which is many people are saying this is basically an attempt to go around the entire talks and amend the Constitution to allow either permanent, not permanent, to amend term limits, which is the whole issue, one of the issues of this third term.  So I wanted to know what is UN's thinking on now that inside the building the Representative of the Pierre Nkurunziza Government has referred to a quote “probable constitutional amendment” while the same talks are going on?

Deputy Spokesman:  Right now, we encourage the current process, the process of the talks.  You've heard what Jamal Benomar has had to say in his work and we want all the efforts from the Government and the parties to be supportive of an inclusive process and a dialogue amongst the parties.  And we would urge them to avoid any steps that could hinder that particular process.  Beyond that I wouldn't have any comment on that.  Regarding Paolo Lembo we will see whether he could be made available.  Yes, Maria Carmen.

Question:  Thank you.  Follow‑up to Stefano's question, regarding the decision by the General Assembly regarding the moratorium to the death penalty, the Italian [inaudible] has denounced nine Iranian citizens were executed on trumped up charges without due process:  how does the Secretary‑General view this, thank you?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, we are against capital punishment in every country and we deplore the carrying-out of executions. 

Yes, you and then you.  You first, yes.  No, no, you.  No, when I say you, Masood, I actually mean you. I'm pointing directly at you, there is no one else in the area that I could possibly be pointing at.

Question:  Asking about the India-Pakistan situation again, where the conflict continues and that people continue to be killed but the Indians over here, the Indian Mission over here, is now in succinct [saying] that Indian‑Pakistan situation should only be discussed in the backdrop of terrorism, which also is fine.  It should be discussed in backdrop of terrorism and that means in that case, in particular, you have to take both sides into account and that Indian side is also encouraging the so‑called terrorists over there by its actions in the occupied Kashmir.

Deputy Spokesman:  Was there a question there?  I don't know what your question was.

Question:  What I'm trying to say is that India, that the India‑Pakistan situation in the Kashmir should be judged only in the context of terrorism as against the so‑called resolution of 1948 to resolve this issue, because they totally reject that 1948 resolution, so how… where do we stand on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  You are aware of where the UN stands on it and what the relevant… what the relevant UN policy is.  Regarding what you have been describing, you're talking about the views of an Ambassador and I don't have any particular comment or response on his expression of his own views. 

Yes.

Question:  Two questions on Myanmar.  One is there were consultations yesterday of the Security Council and it was said by Council members that Vijay Nambiar briefed the Council and I wanted to know sometimes such briefings are made public, can you either provide that or to respond to what several Council members said, which is that he said the Government should be given more time - this is in reference to the burning of homes and rapes and murders in Rakhine State - and I want to, maybe this is a mischaracterization of what he said, but several Council members said this is pretty much what he said, so I'd like to know:  What is his view on the correct approach to the Government of Myanmar conducting these operations in Rakhine State, and is there a split between what you read from the podium and what has been said behind closed doors to the Security Council yesterday evening?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  I mean, what we say from the podium is, reflects our views and our policy.  Regarding the briefing that was a briefing in consultations, because it's a briefing in consultations I don't know what of it we can share with you but I'll check and see.

Question:  But sometimes different people release - it's obviously something that can be done so I just would like to request that it be done. 

The other one I wanted to ask is to understand what you said yesterday: so now nine days ago I provided there were three links, these are links to Government websites in Myanmar, one of which refers to Ban Ki‑ho, the brother of the Secretary‑General and a visiting delegation of the United Nations.  Yesterday in the last answer, you seemed to say you found nothing on him working with the UN, but the allegation or what I'm asking you to confirm or deny is, one, that he does business in Myanmar, mining, through the two companies that I named; and, two, as the Government of Myanmar website states, that he was related to this visiting delegation of the UN. So I want to understand:  it's not whether he has a job with you, I don't think that he does, why would he have been part of a delegation of the United Nations and was any ethical review done, given that he is a relative of the Secretary‑General?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I don't have any comment on non‑UN work that is being done by someone who is not a UN person.  I wouldn't be able to characterize what work different private companies or private individuals do.  That's outside of my purview.  I'm not aware that he has any involvement with the UN.

Question:  But what I'm asking, I just wanted to be very clear, the website of the Government of Myanmar talks about this as a joint delegation to do business involving the brother on the one hand and the visiting UN delegation.  So all I was asking you, it's actually just a straight factual question:  since the Government of Myanmar said this visit took place and the date is on it and you've been given the link, who was on the delegation?  What was the purpose of the delegation?

Deputy Spokesman:  He is not part of a UN delegation that I'm aware of, so I wouldn't have any information.  It would be information, in other words, possessed by someone else, a company or something else but we as the UN don't have that.

Question:  For the UN side of this, the UN delegation, can you find out who was there?  I'm willing to… if you tell me which… doesn't say which agency, if you tell me who in the UN system?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not aware of any UN delegation that participated in this work so I don't know who you would go to for that.  I think you need to go to the companies for which this person works and ask about the work that he did.  They are the one whose can speak for him.  I cannot. 

Okay, now let us get to our guest.

For information media. Not an official record.