The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
In a short while, I will be joined by Amin Awad, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Director for the Middle East and North Africa Bureau and Regional Refugee Coordinator for Syria. He will here to brief you on the current refugee situation in Syria and Iraq.
**Responsibility to Protect
Earlier this morning, the Secretary-General spoke at this morning’s [General Assembly] meeting on the responsibility to protect. He said that today’s meeting comes at a time when the need for strengthened efforts to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity [is] as strong as ever. It is time, he added, to move beyond the conceptual debate towards improved protection of people from atrocity crimes. His remarks are available online.
As Hurricane Irma is moving west over the Caribbean, our humanitarian colleagues are deploying a team to Barbados today to work with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency. Additional teams are on standby to travel. Estimates of population exposure to the hurricane could be as high as 37 million people.
In Haiti, the UN Country Team is fully supporting Haitian authorities and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [in] Haiti has also deployed staff to the northern departments of the country, which are likely to be impacted. As for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), as you know, the drawdown of the uniform component has been almost completed, but we still have some military and police capacity on the ground.
Peacekeepers have deployed two units and some engineering capabilities to Gonaives to be ready to open the main roads to the north, north-east and north‑west, and both military and police officers are ready to be deployed in support of the Haitian National Police.
And as we see more frequent and severe hurricane events like Irma, experts are gathering today at the Standing Committee on Finance Forum in Rabat, Morocco, to discuss how finance can be mobilized for infrastructure that can withstand the impact of climate change. The Forum, which is organized by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), will bring together experts and practitioners from local and central governments, banks, UN organizations, infrastructure developers, and the financial sector, including the insurance industry. More information on the UNFCCC’s website.
Our colleagues at the World Food Programme (WFP) say they are distributing food to people fleeing from Myanmar’s Rakhine State to Bangladesh. Some 146,000 people have crossed the border to the Cox’s Bazaar district since 25 August. WFP has provided tens of thousands of people with food, including high-nutrient porridge to women and children who are arriving hungry and malnourished. The agency says that it needs $11.3 million to support the influx of people, in addition to those already living in camps.
Our colleagues at the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) tell us that the population of the largest protection-of-civilians camp in Bentiu has fallen from around 120,000 in January to 114,600 this month. The increase in the number of people leaving the UN protection site has been partly driven by the provision of services outside the sites.
The head of the UN Mission, David Shearer, said that humanitarian partners provide a wide range of services inside the Bentiu camp, but have now stepped up outside and are delivering some of the same services to people who are returning home. If people are confident enough to go home, we can help them and make the transition so much easier, he said. UN peacekeepers have also supported the provision of humanitarian assistance and conducted confidence-building patrols in areas to which people are returning. Some 213,000 people live in 7 protection-of-civilians’ sites provided by the UN Mission across the country.
Our humanitarian colleagues say that a cholera outbreak has been reported in Borno State, in north-eastern part of the country. The first case was recorded on 16 August. Over 530 suspected cases have now been registered as of yesterday. That includes, unfortunately, 23 deaths, mainly in Muna Garage, a camp hosting about 20,000 internally displaced persons on the outskirts of the capital, Maiduguri. The Nigerian authorities, along with humanitarian organizations and UN agencies, are responding to the outbreak. And more information on the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ website.
From Sierra Leone, half a million people in that country will now be able to access cholera vaccine within weeks. Vaccines will be received from the global stockpile and will target areas particularly affected by August’s floods and deadly landslide, which resulted in 500 deaths. Hundreds more people were reported missing in the wake of the disaster, while thousands were displaced from their homes. Two rounds of vaccination are planned to run from September and will be delivered in 25 affected communities by the Government of Sierra Leone, supported by the Global Alliance, Gavi, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Kingdom Government, as well as other health partners.
A note that our colleague, the Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Atul Khare, is in Mali to launch a new Supply Chain Management system for all UN field offices operated through Umoja. The new system will help streamline inventory, property and fleet management; enable global inventory visibility; improve financial compliance; and help the UN be more transparent, efficient and nimble.
From Lebanon, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Sigrid Kaag, extended her deep condolences today to the families of the fallen Lebanese soldiers, who were kidnapped in 2014. She said that the servicemen will always serve as a symbol of courage, commitment and dedication to the country. The Special Coordinator commends the Lebanese Armed Forces and the security forces in their continued efforts to safeguard Lebanon’s stability, security and territorial integrity, including from the threat of terror.
UNICEF today says that nearly zero progress has been made over the past decade in reducing the global out-of-school rate. The percentage of 6 to 15 year olds who are out of school has barely decreased to 11.5 per cent — compared to 12.8 per cent in 2007. Pervasive levels of poverty, protracted conflicts and complex humanitarian emergencies have caused this rate to stagnate. Of the 123 million children missing out on school, 40 per cent live in the least developed countries and 20 per cent live in conflict zones. However, UNICEF notes some progress in countries like Ethiopia and Niger, where enrolment rates have increased by 15 per cent and 19 per cent, respectively.
You will have seen that yesterday afternoon, we issued a statement by the Secretary-General welcoming the announcement by the Government of Colombia and the National Liberation Army (ELN) of a temporary bilateral cease-fire from 1 October 2017 to 12 January 2018.
And we also issued a statement on Mali in which the Secretary-General condemned the attack carried out against a convoy of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), which resulted in the death of two peacekeepers and seriously injured two others. Khalas. Yes, sir?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Stéphane, on Myanmar, does the UN have workers, staff, within the country? And out of these $13.3 million needed, is there a call for these funds to be found? What is the Secretary-General doing to get these necessary funds?
Spokesman: I think the… you will have seen that yesterday, the Secretary-General spoke at length of his concern for the situation in Myanmar, particularly in Rakhine State. We do have humanitarian workers in Rakhine State, but as we flagged here a number of occasions, the security situation in the area makes it challenging for us to work there freely and without risk. There is a UN component on the Bangladeshi side of the border, as we just said with the World Food Programme. The Secretary-General is continuing his diplomatic contacts regarding the situation in Myanmar. Yes, Carole? It's been a while.
Question: On Myanmar, following the letter to the Security Council, what does the Secretary-General expect the Security Council to do now? I mean, at least a meeting? And Aung San Suu Kyi said in a statement that there was a lot of misinformation about what's going on in Rakhine State. I'm wondering if you feel you're getting a lot of misinformation?
Spokesman: I think we are… I can only speak for the Secretary-General. He is getting information on the humanitarian situation inside the country and in Bangladesh, which he feels is reliable. I think his statement yesterday was fairly clear and to the point as to his concern and his suggestion on the way forward. As for the Security Council, I think the fact he wrote an official letter to the Security Council underlines how seriously he takes the situation. We'll have to see what the Council does. Ali and then…
Question: Thank you, Steph. The US ambassador, Nikki Haley, has been fiercely criticizing UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] and its commanders, including yesterday in an article… column in The Jerusalem Post. So, I wonder why the Secretary-General has taken a soft position on this criticism from the US ambassador.
Spokesman: I beg to differ on your interpretation. The Secretary-General, I think, in his last statement was very clear in expressing his confidence in the leadership of the mission. Abdelhamid? I'll come back to you.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Going back to Myanmar, is the Secretary-General aware of the severity of the atrocities committed against the Muslims? Did he see the videos, burning people alive? And the second question: What did he mean by either they could grant them citizenship or at least legal status? Isn't that some kind of discrimination? They are citizens. They were born there. They have no other…
Spokesman: I think, first of all, I think if you read what the Secretary-General said yesterday, you will realize that he's fully aware of the severity of the situation. I think the point the Secretary-General is making is to give… he calls on nationality or at least some other legal status so that people can have access to basic services, as something that needs to be done with some rapidity, so people have access to health services, education services, basic social services. Yes, sir? And then Mr. Lee.
Question: Please allow me two questions on the Cyprus issue; is that okay?
Spokesman: I always enjoy getting questions on the Cyprus issue.
Correspondent: Thanks. Two weeks ago…
Spokesman: I do. I don't have much to say, but I enjoy the questions. Sorry, go ahead.
Correspondent: Hopefully, you do have something to say, because it's a very important problem. I hope so.
Spokesman: No, I do. I don't mean to make light of it. Go ahead.
Question: Okay. Two weeks ago, Farhan [Haq] said: "We're in a period of reflection and a period of cooling off. After that, we certainly hope and expect the parties would come back ready to talk to each other." This is what he said. The President of the Republic of Cyprus, Mr. [Nikos] Anastasiades, indicated several times that he's ready to talk once Mr. [António] Guterres’s framework is accepted by all parties. On the other hand, Turkey continuously issues legal notices, violating the Cyprus's exclusive economic zone, and also restricts the Greek Cypriots to visit some of their churches in the occupied area. Under the circumstances, which prevent their reunification of Cyprus, how could the General Secretary develop any potential? Are the United Nations still classifying the Cyprus problem as a problem of Turkish integration and incubation and not just a problem between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots? Do you want me to go to the second one?
Spokesman: I think that's quite a lot there to digest. I think… the Secretary-General's position remains unchanged. I think he was very clear at the end of the talks in Crans-Montana that he is waiting. It's a period of reflection, and it's now up to the parties to come back to him, and then decisions will be made on the next step and the way forward. I'm not going to get into the details of things that may be happening now on the ground. What is important for the Secretary-General is that a solution be found to the so-called Cyprus problem, and as he said, he… we continue to be in a period of reflection. And let's see what happens. But, his good offices remain available. And your second question?
Correspondent: Okay. Four Cypriot members of the European Parliament sent a letter to our colleagues, wondering about Mr. [Espen Barth] Eide’s role in Crans-Montana.
Spokesman: Mister whose role?
Question: Mr. Eide.
Spokesman: Yeah, yeah.
Question: Okay. More particularly, they said the following question: "Would you accept the invader to keep troops on your land and to guarantee your citizenship and rules of law as Mr. Eide was pushing Cyprus to do?" We know that the letter was copied to the Secretary-General. How does the General Secretary respond to this?
Spokesman: I don't know if the Secretary-General has received the letter. I think he was very thankful and supportive of the role that Mr. Eide played. His role was as the Secretary-General's Special Envoy to help with the discussions. They were not being led by the UN. They were being facilitated by the UN. As to what may have been said or not been said within the talks, we have no… I have no comment on that. But, Mr. Eide's role was to be the Special Envoy.
Question: Do you see any potential, Stéphane? That's the question.
Question: For the Cyprus issue. Do… does the General Secretary… the Secretary-General and the United Nations, can they see any potential?
Spokesman: Well, as we said, we're… the process, as participated in… with by the Secretary-General in Switzerland, did not end in a way that we would have all have liked, which was to find a solution. We're now in a period of reflection, and we'll wait to see what the parties decide. Is that a viewfinder? Is that a laser tag? Is that a…?
Correspondent: Whatever it takes to get answers, but it's to improve your audio quality. Thank you, welcome back and it seems to me that of 21 questions submitted to you in writing, you answered three. So, I'm going to ask two now.
Spokesman: That's a pretty good average for me. Go ahead.
Question: Okay, well, let's start. So, in Togo, when you left, there had been the shooting of protesters by the Government and you or Farhan said that Mr. [Mohamed ibn] Chambas was going. So, can you now… now that there's a protest there today, and… and quite a bit of crackdown, slowing down and turning off of the Internet, can you say if Mr. Chambas has gone and what the UN has done?
Spokesman: Right. I'll get… I don't have an update on his travels.
Question: Okay. On Cameroon, I had asked you in writing yesterday, the school… the school year opened and the Government used live bullets and, in fact, one student has been very publicly killed. Some other civilians were shot. So, I wanted to know. I saw the statement that was put out on the release of some of the political prisoners. What is the UN's… what does it think of this seemingly ongoing standoff and…?
Spokesman: We're aware of those reports and we're looking into them.
Correspondent: And I wanted to ask you, I've… there's a… what seems… a self-described UNHCR community protection officer on Facebook has… from Cameroon has called the protesters terrorists, and has said that there should be an even more harsher crackdown on them. So, many people are up in arms about that.
Spokesman: I don't… I'll look into it. I'm not aware. Pam?
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. The Secretary-General yesterday said at the stakeout that, "I have signaled to the parties on DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] my availability to support any serious efforts." Can you be more specific of what those signals were? And has there been any response? Is there an effort by the Secretary-General to mediate, as Switzerland proposed, some kind of talks?
Spokesman: I think what the Secretary-General was saying is that he has told the parties, he's signaled to them, that he is available. His good offices are available. He… there's no proactive effort to mediate. He's available. As… as with any time with his good offices, they have to be… all the parties involved have to, you know, agree for him to participate so that it's constructive. So, that's where we stand. There have been contacts… there have been various contacts. We saw the public comments made by the Russian Foreign Minister earlier today on welcoming the Secretary-General's statement, and let's see where things go.
Question: But, Ambassador [Vasilly] Nebenzia yesterday said he welcomed even the Swiss; whoever can do it, he said, it would be good. Is there any… any response from anyone? And is there a reason the Secretary-General wouldn't be more proactive in trying to get these talks going?
Spokesman: I think he is being proactive in signaling his availability.
Question: And any response?
Spokesman: Not that we can emerge with at this point. Carole?
Question: Stéphane, I wanted to ask about this event on UN reform during UNGA [United Nations General Assembly] week. How is this political declaration on supporting the SG's efforts at reform going to help him in reforms? And the Secretary-General is, we understand, supposed to address this event. Can you… can you tell us more about it?
Spokesman: My understanding is that the Secretary-General will address this event, which has been sponsored by the United States. I think it's very important for the Secretary-General to participate and hear from all the Member States who are interested in reform and this is part of that ongoing conversation. Yes, sir?
Question: Stéphane, back to Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticized by the international community for not speaking up in the wake of these crimes that are taking place in Rakhine State and against the Rohingya. What does the Secretary-General think of her? Has he spoken to her at all during this last couple of…?
Spokesman: I think I would refer you to what the Secretary-General said yesterday on the issue, but yes, he's been both in phone and in correspondence with her. And then we'll go to our guest. Go ahead, Matthew.
Question: Well, I guess on UN reform, I wanted to ask you. In the continued release of exhibits by the prosecution in the Ng Lap Seng/John Ashe case, photos have emerged of current UN security officers that accompanied John Ashe not just to the Macau conference, but to another trip that he made prior to that, one in which he charged $60,000 to unveil the UN flag. And I wanted to know: What is the responsibility of UN security officers? I know that some are assigned as close protection. But, what is, internally to the UN at a minimum, what is their responsibility to report if they engage… if they observe and witness corruption in front of their face?
Spokesman: Well, their main task is to protect the people. Obviously, I can't speak to the specific event, because I don't know what was seen and what wasn't seen, but obviously, we all have the same duties as staff members.
Question: But, if somebody commits, I mean… Is there a written rule…?
Spokesman: I'm just saying… I think every staff member has the same responsibility. Amin. Let's… we'll go to our guest now. Thank you.