The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Earlier today, we issued a statement on Hurricane Irma, in which the Secretary-General said he was saddened by the reports of immense destruction and loss of life in the Caribbean region since Hurricane Irma made landfall on Antigua and Barbuda on Wednesday. He extends his condolences to the Governments and people of all the island countries and territories in the region impacted by Hurricane Irma. The Secretary-General expresses the UN’s solidarity and commends the leadership of the respective Governments for their preparedness and response to the needs of the affected communities. The United Nations system is already working to support national relief efforts.
In a statement also issued today by the new Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, he also expressed his sadness at the situation. The Emergency Relief Coordinator stressed that in the days preceding the storm’s landfall, humanitarian agencies began to pre-position supplies and technical experts to support national and regional relief efforts. These proactive measures have included the deployment of Disaster Assessment and Coordination teams of first responders to augment capacity in the region where required, and the surge of Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs staff to Haiti.
And our colleagues at the UN Development Programme (UNDP) are also sending experts on crisis recovery to support the people of the Caribbean. UNDP has activated its crisis preparedness plans in several countries in the region, and will support them both during the immediate response to the disaster and in crucial early recovery activities like debris and waste management, emergency employment and supporting core government functions, if so requested.
Turning to Syria, the UN was informed today by the Government of Syria that road access to some of the besieged areas of Deir ez-Zor City has been reopened. The 93,500 people besieged by Da’esh for three years had been previously only reached airdrops run by the World Food Programme (WFP). Since April 2016, 300 such airdrops have been conducted. We have received reports that commercial trucks and some assistance have begun to arrive into the newly cleared areas. The UN is currently working with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and humanitarian partners to respond to those in need of assistance in Deir ez-Zor, as soon as security conditions allow.
We continue to be deeply concerned for the safety and protection of civilians across the Deir ez-Zor governorate as military operations are reportedly putting civilians in the line of fire and have resulted in civilian casualties. With continued fighting and military operations, hundreds of families have been displaced in the Governorate in the past weeks. The UN reminds all parties of their obligation to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including facilitating access to those in need in a regular, sustained and impartial manner, in line with international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
The head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), David Shearer, met with the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, yesterday. During their meeting, Mr. Shearer emphasized the need for the UN Mission and the Government to work together in the best interest of the people of South Sudan. Mr. Shearer reiterated that, with the arrival of up to 4,000 new troops as part of the Regional Protection Force mandated by the Security Council, the mission will be able to deploy more peacekeepers outside the capital, Juba. He also reiterated the need for clear lines of communication with the Government so that the UN Mission could support what Mr. Shearer called “a prosperous future” for the country.
From Kenya, humanitarian partners today appealed for $106 million to scale up their response to the most urgent needs resulting from the effects of the ongoing drought in the northern part of the country. The previous Flash Appeal for Kenya was launched in March 2017 and was only 43‑per‑cent funded, while the food insecurity and malnutrition crisis has escalated due to recurrent drought. An estimated 5.6 million people are now impacted as a result of the drought, including 3.4 million people who are food insecure. More than 360,000 children in the arid and semi-arid counties of Kenya require urgent treatment for acute malnutrition.
Our colleagues today at UNDP released a report which pinpoints key factors that have drawn young Africans into violent extremism. Among these are deprivation and marginalization, weak governance, and a perception of abuse of power from Governments. The report is based on hundreds of interviews with voluntary recruits to extremist organizations such as Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram. The majority of these recruits said it was some form of Government action that was the tipping point which led them to join these groups.
UNDP warned that Africa’s vulnerability to violent extremism is deepening as more young men in remote areas become frustrated with the lack of economic prospects and without outlets for meaningful civic participation. It added that there is an urgent need to bring a stronger development focus to security challenges. The report is available on UNDP’s website.
A quick note from Guinea-Bissau: The Government of Guinea-Bissau, supported by the World Food Programme, is today launching a comprehensive study into the impact of child undernutrition on Guinea-Bissau’s social life and economic performance. The latest in WFP’s Cost of Hunger in Africa series aims to quantify — and ultimately help reduce — the devastating effects of hunger on the youngest and most vulnerable. More information online.
And I wanted to flag that the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, condemned the killing of an Indian journalist, Gauri Lankesh, who was shot on Tuesday. Ms. Lankesh was the editor and publisher of a Kannada-language weekly and an outspoken critic of right-wing extremism. She was shot outside of her home in South India.
Our colleagues at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report that global food prices declined 1.3 per cent from July, a drop reflecting a sharp fall in wheat prices as the outlook for production in the Black Sea region has now improved. The FAO raised its forecast for global cereal production to 2,611 million tons, an all-time high. Worldwide stocks of cereals are also expected to reach an all-time high by the end of 2018.
**Culture of Peace
Back here, Ana María Menéndez, the Secretary-General’s Senior Adviser on Policy, today addressed the High-Level Forum on a Culture of Peace on the Secretary-General’s behalf. She told them that conflicts have become more complex — and interlinked — than ever before. They produce horrific violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. Against this bleak backdrop, she said, the Secretary-General continues to urge all citizens, Governments and leaders to overcome differences, prioritize dialogue, and resolve to put peace first. He also calls for a new approach for the UN to ensure that together we uphold the UN Charter, prioritize prevention and address the root causes of harm in all its forms.
She highlighted four areas where action is especially urgent in combatting today's turbulence and intolerance: investing in children; investing in youth; recognizing that women’s contributions and participation are essential; as well as investing in inclusion and cohesion, so that diversity is seen as a benefit, not as a threat. Her remarks are online.
**Economic and Social Council
Our colleagues at Economic and Social Council wanted us to flag that the 2017 High-Level Symposium of the Economic and Social Council Development Cooperation Forum on “South-South and triangular cooperation for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, was officially opened in Buenos Aires. The main objectives of the Symposium are exploring the challenges and opportunities created by South-South Cooperation and identifying elements that may contribute to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Tomorrow, in this very room, at 1 p.m., Peter Thomson, the President of the seventy-first session of the General Assembly will hold his last press conference as President of the General Assembly. That is at 1 p.m.
And [from] the incoming President of the General Assembly, Miroslav Lajčák: his colleagues tell us that the “pga72” website is currently being worked on in all languages and will be launched on Tuesday, 12 September. The English and French press kits are available online, and other languages will follow suit today.
And today we have some money that has been received and we are thankful for it. Botswana has paid in full its regular budget dues, making it the 125th Member State to do so. So, we say thank you. We now take your questions, and we're thankful for that, as well. Nizar?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Today, of course, there were reports about Israeli attacks against the Syrian army in Hama and the position in which they are fighting ISIS in particular. The attack was carried out over the Lebanese airspace. Did the UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] report anything about it? And what does the Secretary-General think about this attack?
Spokesman: We have not received any reports from our peacekeeping mission related to this attack, which we've… obviously, we've seen the press reports. From the UN's standpoint, we have no… we have no knowledge or information as to any more details about the attack and who may have committed it.
Question: Another report a couple of days ago was that many of the senior leaders of ISIS were uplifted from Deir ez-Zor, including Omar al-Shishani, one of the most atrocious leaders, who was responsible for many of the killings and kidnappings and rapes in Iraq and Syria. Have you received anything about that? And if he was arrested by any party, what does the Secretary-General believe that he should be subjected to?
Spokesman: We have not… I have not seen those particular reports. Obviously, anyone who is involved in any of the horrendous crimes that Da’esh has committed needs to be held accountable for those crimes. Mr. Lee?
Question: I want ask you about… on Myanmar. I know that the Secretary-General made the statement that he made, but since then, there are reports of villages that people have been chased out of being burned to the ground, and there are also some reports of… of landmines placed by the Myanmar military on the border with Bangladesh. So, I wanted to know if the UN is aware of these reports and also… and I might have… I honestly might have missed it, but has the Secretary-General actually placed any phone call to Aung San Suu Kyi? And if he has…
Spokesman: As I said yesterday, he has been, over the last few months, in touch with Aung San Suu Kyi, both by phone and through correspondence. We've seen the reports. We're obviously extremely concerned about the reports of continuing violence, especially violence that targets civilians. The reports of land mines is not one we can confirm, but, obviously, if they were to be true, those would be extremely troubling if they were to be confirmed.
Question: If you don't… when… when's the last time, since this is kind of a… it's a fast deteriorating situation. When's the last time that he spoke to her?
Spokesman: I have no… at this point, I have no further details to share with you. Monsieur?
Question: Thank you. On Togo, you told us last time that [Mohamed] ibn Chambas is supposed to be in the country, was supposed to travel to the country. Is there any update?
Spokesman: Yes. Mr. Chambas is currently in Togo, where he is continuing to call for calm and encourage dialogue to resolve all outstanding issues. He's holding consultations with the President and he's also meeting, as well, with the representatives of political opposition, the diplomatic corps and civil society. He's also reiterating the UN's commitment to continue to provide support as required ahead of the legislative and local elections in 2018 and to ensure those elections are conducted in a peaceful, open and credible way. No, let's share the wealth a little bit before you get to eat again.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. About Myanmar, the UN Secretary-General's Adviser for Prevention of Genocide basically said that the country is on the brink of a genocide. It's not there yet, but it's on the brink of a genocide. Most of the credible reports, or reports out of Myanmar, indicate that it's just like the days and months before the genocides like Anfal in Iraq or Rwanda. In the letter of the Secretary-General to the Security Council, there was no indication about this. Does the Secretary-General hope to make steps… like, the Security Council to make steps to the prevention of genocide possibly, because they hold only one meeting, and they discussed it as a humanitarian crisis.
Spokesman: What's clear is that the international… the responsibility to prevent any further violence against civilians in Myanmar is the responsibility of the authorities in Myanmar. I would refer you back to what the Secretary-General said two days ago now. I think he was very clear in his language, in his concern at the ongoing violence. He answered a question, I think from one of your colleagues, about ethnic cleansing. His position is unchanged. As a matter of principle, the labelling of an event as a genocide needs to be taken by a competent judicial body. Madame?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Do you have any scheduled press conference by the Secretary-General?
Spokesman: Yes, 13 September in this very room. You're welcome. Yes, sir?
Question: I just want to know. In Tanzania, the… the major opposition leader has been… has been shot. And I had asked you… well, during the time there were no briefings, I asked you in writing about the burning down of the opposition headquarters. And I'm just wondering… it seems… I'm not necessarily saying the two are connected, but is the UN aware that a major opposition leader in Tanzania was subject to a gun attack? And what…?
Spokesman: The UN may very well be aware… I'm sure the UN country team is aware. I personally have not seen those reports this morning, but we'll look into it.
Question: Okay and I wanted to… thank you; you gave this on Kenya obviously, the drought readout. But, as I'm sure you know, beyond what you emailed after the Secretary-General's stakeout, the… the election results were thrown out, and now, there's an enormous fight around the Electoral Commission. Given that there's one on-hiatus UN DPA [Department of Political Affairs] staffer on the commission and given that person being now ousted from the commission was a former UNDP staffer, there are many people in Kenya wondering what the… if the UN is, in fact, impartial in this case. What is the UN's view of the… of the Electoral Commission dispute? And is Ms. Roslyn Akombe still on…?
Spokesman: She's still on special leave. I think the ruling of the Supreme Court is something we've taken note of. I think the Secretary-General, in an interview that he did yesterday, I think said it was a sign of democracy, of the democratic process. From the beginning, I think we have been calling on parties who had grievances to follow the legal pathways. That has happened. It is now up to the Kenyans and the established procedures to be followed.
Question: So, I mean, just because as you may have seen, the President [Uhuru] Kenyatta of Kenya has called the head of the Supreme Court a "crook" and said that if he wins on a second term he will "take care of the Court". So, does that… I didn't see this interview, but is that within… within… in keeping with the Secretary-General's saying that everyone is following the legal procedure?
Spokesman: That would not be. Yes, sir? Sorry.
Question: In an interview, Robert Ford, the former US ambassador to Damascus, admitted and… or accused the United States of doing most of the killing of civilians in Raqqa by aerial bombardment, indiscriminate aerial bombardment to Raqqa. What does the Secretary-General believe about that? And does he call for a ceasefire in that area, since many civilians are being killed?
Spokesman: I think we… you may have been absent, but we have been calling for all parties involved in the fighting in Raqqa to take the most extreme care in ensuring the protection of civilians as the military operations go on.
Question: About the accountability of the killing of these civilians, do you believe…?
Spokesman: Civilians… the killings of all civilians needs to be held to account. Linda?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Turning to Yemen, I was wondering if there's an update in terms of the situation there, humanitarian conditions, financial contributions or even the status of fighting?
Spokesman: I don't have an update today. I think we had a briefing yesterday from the UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] regional [representative] who provided quite a bit of an update on the situation… humanitarian situation in Yemen. We will see what we can get you for tomorrow. Yes?
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. Mr. Staffan de Mistura called the Syrian opposition to be realistic and realize that they did not win the war… won the war. So, this brought a lot of criticism from the Syrian opposition, as well as Mr. Riyad Hijab, the head of HNC [High Negotiations Committee]. Do you think that the Special Envoy has, like, the right to make such an assessment or such a statement?
Spokesman: Look, I think… first of all, I think the statement was misinterpreted, if you look at what he said. I would, first of all… second of all, underscore the fact that the Secretary-General continues… has the full and the utmost confidence in Mr. de Mistura and the way he's handling this very, very delicate and complicated process. I think what's important is that both the Government and the opposition heed the calls of many in the international community and that the Government show real readiness to negotiate, and the opposition strengthens its unity and common positions, seeking to move forward on a political process in… following Security Council resolution 2254 (2016). I think what is clear, what Mr. de Mistura has said, is that there can be no… no one can claim to win this war. I think we've seen the suffering of the people of Syria and the only way to bring peace, and the only way to bring a victory for the people of Syria is through a sustainable political process. And that's the message from Mr. de Mistura, and that's the message from the UN. The people of Syria want peace and they want stability. That will be achieved through a sustainable political process. And we have the road map for that process and those… and that process is being… for the UN, that process is being managed by Mr. de Mistura. Oleg?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Is the Secretary-General concerned about possible humanitarian consequences of the new round of sanctions, which was discussed by the Security Council right now? On… on DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea]?
Spokesman: We'll have to wait and see what the outcome of the new round of discussions are, if there are further sanctions. I would refer you back to what the Secretary-General has already said on DPRK two days ago. It's a complex situation, and I think we do not want to see the best… we do not want to see the people of the DPRK suffer. And I think the best way to solve that situation is through a negotiated, a diplomatic discussion to lead to the denuclearization of the Peninsula. Go ahead.
Question: Yeah, and on a separate issue. On the Ukraine, I'm sure that you saw that the Russian ambassador a couple of days ago announced that… that Russia sent a draft resolution to the Secretary-General, concerning the peacekeepers in eastern Ukraine. Did the Secretary-General receive this letter… this draft? Did he look at it?
Spokesman: The letter was received. I think it was also meant for the Security Council. We understand there are discussions going on. The Security Council asked… this proposed, this idea of having some sort of a peacekeeping operation in the eastern part of the Ukraine. We, as the Secretariat, will obviously be guided by the decisions taken by the Security Council.
Question: Does that mean that the UN is prepared to send some sort of…?
Spokesman: What it means, as in every case with peacekeeping missions or special political missions or any sort of peace and security mission, we are guided by the decisions of the Security Council. They are our guide, lord and master. Mr. Lee?
Question: With the Security Council now in Addis Ababa, I wanted to ask you and maybe you'll have some or you can get some… some later, what has… what has been the UN system's involvement in both the Oromo protests and in the dispute, quite deadly dispute, between the Oromia region and the Somali region in the country? There are allegations of human rights violations by something called the Liyu police. Recently, the Government has banned the… an album launch or event by an artist, Teddy Afro. There seems to be a number of the type of issues that the UN comments on in other countries. And I wanted to know, beyond a comment, what the UN, with its presence there, actually does about any of these issues?
Spokesman: First of all, the UN's main presence in Ethiopia is as a region hub. I mean, it's the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). It is not meant as a headquarters for Ethiopia. That being said, I will check with our colleagues if we have any guidance on the latest round of events in Ethiopia.
Question: And I'd wanted to ask you… I've asked you this before and again, I'm all for… for… I'm definitely for free speech, but I want to understand what the role of Jeffrey Sachs is with the UN system? Is he still a special adviser?
Spokesman: I think he continues to be a special advisor… I know he continues to be a special adviser, but obviously, that is only specifically when he's here. Or… I mean, he continues to hold that role, which is a dollar-a-year role.
Question: Right. But I've heard that you say… when he speaks within the realm of his… or the…?
Spokesman: What's the payday here?
Question: He recently said regarding immigration "Trump is a sociopath, period." And many people believe that, but I… I guess I just want to know if someone, who is a self-described and on his profile links himself…?
Spokesman: I will obviously be happy for you to share where those comments were made…
Correspondent: It's on Twitter.
Spokesman: …and it goes to… it doesn't need to be said, but it will be said, that, obviously, the Secretary-General doesn't share that opinion. Sir?
Question: Yeah. There has been intensifications of the violation of Lebanese airspace by Israeli drones and airplanes in the recent days. Has the UNIFIL reported anything about that? And what's the position on such violations?
Spokesman: UNIFIL… I haven't had reports in the last few days. UNIFIL reports on violations as it sees them and reports them regularly back to the Security Council.
Question: Do they… does the United Nations condemn such violations, or see them as a threat?
Spokesman: Well, I think, if you look at the reports, it's pretty clear what our position is.
Question: I wanted to ask you on Burundi. There's obviously been this report by the Panel of Inquiry saying there may be war… you know, war crimes and other crimes have been committed. So, I wanted… so, I was sort of waiting to see either DPA or Michel Kafando… is there some response to that report? And also, I think I sent you a photograph of what… what purports to be Burundian soldiers inside their own country in Bujumbura in a pickup truck marked "UN". And I wanted to know is it… I know that they have deployed to CAR [Central African Republic], but is there… is there… is the UN somehow endorsing what the soldiers are doing in Bujumbura?
Spokesman: I don't know the origin of the photo or whether it's real or not real. The point is, is that no country should use UN-marked equipment that they may have used in a deployment peacekeeping mission in their home country. So, that stands. Thank you.
Question: Were you able to find on the Cameroon UNHCR staffer…?
Spokesman: You should ask UNHCR.