The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
Today is the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. In his remarks to the high-level plenary meeting to mark this Day, the Secretary‑General said that in recent months, the dangers posed by nuclear weapons have been forcefully driven home, and added that ensuring that we achieve a nuclear-[weapons]-free world is now more urgent than ever. “It is true that we live in challenging circumstances,” he said, “but this can be no excuse for walking away from our shared responsibility to seek a more peaceful international society.”
He once again condemned the series of nuclear and missile tests conducted by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [DPRK] and welcomed the Security Council’s firm action on the situation, as well as its desire for a peaceful, diplomatic and political solution. He added that there is a need for inclusive dialogue, renewed international cooperation and practical measures for irreversible, verifiable and universal nuclear disarmament.
Turning to the situation in Bangladesh, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [OCHA] says that the number of Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh since late August has now topped 480,000. This brings the total number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to more than 700,000 people. The UN and its partners continue to provide assistance to these refugees.
As part of its contribution to the response plan led by the Bangladeshi authorities, a cargo jet chartered by UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] carrying 100 metric tonnes of urgently-needed shelter supplies landed in Dhaka early this morning. Two more aid flights are now scheduled to arrive. Despite the efforts being made on the ground, the massive influx of people seeking safety is outpacing the capacity to respond. Many of those who recently arrived are deeply traumatized.
At the request of authorities in Bangladesh, UNHCR and its partners have scaled up protection and life-saving support to the new arrivals in Kutupalong and Nayapara camps. UNHCR is also distributing emergency shelter kits, kitchen sets, jerry cans, sleeping mats, solar lamps, and other supplies. During his visit to Bangladesh over the weekend, the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, discussed the importance of working with Bangladeshi authorities. He emphasized that, for now, the immediate focus has to remain on fast, efficient and substantial increase of support to those who are so desperately in need.
For its part, the World Food Programme [WFP] has enrolled 460,000 people to receive 25 kilos of rice every two weeks for the next six months. More than 200,000 people have received an emergency supply of high-energy biscuits. WFP is especially concerned about the health of women and children arriving hungry and malnourished, and has provided nearly 60,000 of them with fortified food to date.
The World Health Organization [WHO] has helped to set up a control room for the Bangladeshi Health Ministry’s operations in Cox’s Bazar. The control room will monitor the health situation, provide early warning alerts and coordinate the work of health workers on the ground.
Turning to Colombia, today, the UN Verification Mission in Colombia started its activities in support of the peace process between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army [FARC-EP]. Its mandate is to verify the implementation by the parties of both reintegration and security guarantees.
The Verification Mission, as you will recall, succeeds the UN Mission in Colombia, which completed its mandate yesterday, following the successful tripartite monitoring and verification of the cease-fire and the cessation of hostilities. That Mission has also had a specific role in overseeing the laying down of arms process of the FARC-EP.
The previous Mission, in a statement, provided a full list of all the weapons, ammunition, explosives and mines they collected. This represents a total of 8,994 arms, 1,765,862 rounds of ammunition, 38,255 kg of explosives, 11,015 grenades, 3,528 anti-personnel mines, 46,288 electric detonation caps, 4,370 mortar rounds and 51,911 metres of detonating cord and fuses.
Following the laying down of arms, the FARC-EP has transformed from a guerrilla organization into a new political party. The reintegration phase of former FARC members is now underway.
Back here, the Security Council met on South Sudan this morning. The Special Representative of the Secretary‑General, David Shearer, briefed the Council on the situation in the country, and Mr. Shearer will be briefing you in this room at 2 p.m. Yes, in this room.
**Central African Republic
Turning to the Central African Republic [CAR], our humanitarian colleagues said today that the situation in the western part of the country has deteriorated again since the beginning of this month. Armed groups have taken over several localities, including the cities of Bocaranga and Niem, and the ensuing confrontations have caused a large number of displacements. The vast majority of the inhabitants of Bocaranga and Niem took refuge in the bush, where they cannot access humanitarian assistance.
The Humanitarian Coordinator in the CAR, Najat Rochdi, warned that the operational capacities of the humanitarian community are already under intense pressure in a context marked by the underfunding of aid. The simultaneous emergence of new outbreaks of tension in several regions will undoubtedly exacerbate the already fragile situation of thousands of displaced people and the communities that are barely recovering from repeated crises, she added.
Nickolay Mladenov, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, today condemned the shooting attack today by a Palestinian in the Har Adar settlement, in which one Israeli policeman and two security guards were killed, and another was seriously wounded. His thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of all the victims. He hopes for a full and speedy recovery of the wounded. Mr. Mladenov said that it is deplorable that Hamas and others continue to glorify such attacks, which undermine the possibility of a peaceful future for both Palestinians and Israelis. He urges all to condemn violence and stand up to terror.
In Brussels, the Director-General of the UN Migration Agency [IOM], William Lacy Swing, called on European countries to continue the European Union emergency relocation programme without interruption. The programme was set [up] two years ago to relocate some 106,000 asylum seekers that arrived in Greece and Italy. While today is its final day of registration, countries have until the end of the year to carry out relocations.
The Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO] called today for broader cattle vaccination to keep lumpy skin disease at bay in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. The disease is a cattle pox virus transmitted by insects that can be deadly for cattle, but does not impact humans.
Press conferences: I already mentioned at 2 p.m. David Shearer will brief you. And at 4 p.m., the President of the General Assembly [PGA] will hold a press briefing right here. He will have an announcement to make. He will also share his observations on the general debate, outlining what was achieved and laying out his expectations for the rest of the session. Because the PGA is briefing, Brenden [Varma] will not be here to brief you.
Lastly, today, we welcome Saint Kitts and Nevis to the Honour Roll. This brings us up to… how many countries having been paid in full?
Spokesman: 133. Close enough. You get a free ice cream and a question. Go ahead.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you. I understand that the Secretary… Sec… Security Council will hold a meeting this afternoon on the… on the issue of Rohingya and that the Secretary‑General will address the Security [Council]. What is the… what… does the Security… does the Secretary‑General have a specific message to the Council? And what does he expect from that meeting? Thank you.
Spokesman: First of all, my understanding is that there may be a briefing in closed consultations today. I cannot confirm that the Secretary‑General will brief the Security Council this week. If… once we have something confirmed, we will announce it. Obviously, for the Secretary‑General, his message has been the same and is very simple, is a halt to the military and security operations in Rakhine State, humanitarian access for all humanitarian workers, and decisions to be made on the status of the Rohingyas, those who have no papers in Rakhine State. And I think, as for what he expects for the Council, I think he laid it out in his letter. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about this… the meeting… well, something in Burundi and DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] and also about the meeting yesterday with the Foreign Minister of… of… of… of the DRC… of Burundi. Went up there and it… the readout does mention this killing of Burundian refugees in DRC, and I heard Kate Gilmore today speaking about it at the Human Rights Council. But, for people in the DRC, they're saying that actually another camp full of Burundian refugees, Lusenda, is surrounded by the FARDC [Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo], that there's… there's live fire taking place. And I'm just wondering, beyond the sort of expressions of concern by the UN, is MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] doing anything to protect the refugees that were there…
Spokesman: I will check with MONUSCO.
Question: And on that… on that meeting, I guess, and in a number of the meetings, in terms of observing who's there, it doesn't seem like UN Human Rights, the New York office, the New York representative of the High Commissioner didn't seem to be in on meetings that even seemed to implicate serious human rights concerns. Is there some… did Mr. [Andrew] Gilmour attend any of the bilats?
Spokesman: I don't have Mr. Gilmour's schedule. What I can tell you is that, just looking at who's in the meeting, I think, is not the whole story. Obviously, whatever is discussed in the meeting and raised in the meeting represents the issues that are of concern of the house, whether they be political or human rights or humanitarian. And, obviously, people who need to be briefed on the meeting afterwards are briefed on the meeting.
Question: But I have just one more on readouts. The Cameroon readout didn't mention the anglophone issue, certainly by name, and it seemed to refer to something called the… the political situation in the country, which, I think, one of your colleagues that works on 38 [floor] believed that the readout said something about the internal situation. But the Cameroonian coverage of that meeting has absolutely no mention of any human rights concern, anything. And so I'm wondering…
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General… I mean, the readouts offer a glimpse of… a broad glimpse of what was discussed. Obviously, other issues are discussed. And, I think, as the Secretary‑General will tell you, there is a time for public diplomacy, and there's a time for private diplomacy. Yes, sir?
Question: After the referendum in the Kurdistan and Iraq, I… did you see these videos showing that the fabrication of voting, someone voting like 30 papers, signing them and putting them in the box, these are by… by social media, there have been such videos coming out. How does the United Nations… of course, you… you refuse the idea of referendum. But now, given that even the authorities there are fabricating the results, trying to influence the results…
Spokesman: I have no… we had no role on the organization, the planning, the holding of this vote. So, I have no… I haven't seen the videos you mentioned, but I have no comment on the procedural aspects and of the vote. We made our political position, I think, clear. And I will leave it at that.
Question: With regard to Kirkuk, I mean there's disputed territory there. UNAMI [United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq] has an idea about reconciliation. But, of course, if Kurdistan… they are considering this part of them, what would UNAMI do, I mean, to prevent a war or a conflict in that area?
Spokesman: Look, it's clearly a time of heightened tensions in Iraq. I think we've noted, as we said yesterday in a note to correspondents, that this referendum was unilaterally declared and included areas under the control of the Peshmerga and was opposed by the Iraqi constitutional authorities, Iraq's neighbours, and the international community. I think we regret that that the opportunities for dialogue prior to the vote were not seized for serious discussions between the Government in Baghdad, the national Government of Iraq in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Question: How about the support coming from Israel to such referendum and independence of Kurdistan? Have you…
Spokesman: I have no… that's your statement. I don't know how to… I have no information to that. Linda?
Question: It's not a statement… there were statements by Israelis. [inaudible]
Spokesman: Linda, Linda. We'll come back to you… [inaudible] … I will come back to you. Linda?
Question: Thank you, Steph. I hope I didn't miss this at some previous time, but this is regarding the Rohingya. I know there's a dire situation, humanitarian situation, now in Bangladesh where they fled. But my question is about the Rohingya militants. I mean, the… Myanmar has… has said that, you know, that they… this conflict began after militants attacked various police border crossings across big — I don't know — a number of them. But my question is, does the UN have any kind of assessment of who the militants are, how many are there, what they're doing now if… you know, if they're involved in… currently involved in the conflict?
Spokesman: We strongly condemned those attacks when they took place by these militant group. There was no excuse for it. We have no one on the ground, nor do we have the capacity to monitor, analyse, the movements of these armed groups in Rakhine State.
Question: But just to follow up, is there a sense that they're still involved in, perhaps, fighting with the Government?
Spokesman: You know, it's… I can only… the analysis we have at this point is really based on the press coverage. As I said, our physical presence in Rakhine State, especially in the areas where conflict is still going on, is extremely limited. Yep?
Question: Yesterday, Mr. Mladenov in his weekly… or his monthly briefing to the Security Council on the situation in the… in the Middle East, he said settlement activity by Israel makes it more and more unlikely for the two‑State solution to be implemented. I mean, what's the Secretary… the Secretary‑General's position on this? What's… what's his recommendation to the Security Council on this… on this issue?
Spokesman: Well, it's… the Secretary‑General shares that assessment. He said in the past, Mr. Mladenov is there as the Secretary‑General's representative in reporting to the Security Council. I think it's not so much a message to the Security Council but as to both… the parties involved that it's time for direct face-to-face discussions. Mr. Bays and then…
Question: A question, which is really guidance for our diaries. We're all awaiting the Children and Armed Conflict report.
Question: Have you got any news on what day… could it be this week? What day it might be. And just, on that, last year we got the Secretary‑General on the day it came out, coming and briefing us at the stakeout. Are you expecting the…
Spokesman: Last year was quite a unique time if… really… you're talking about the release in 2017… in 2016?
Question: Yes. Are you expecting similar things this year?
Spokesman: No, I understand. I have… just about everything, I have very little expectations about anything, but I will try to get you some guidance diary-wise at least. Yes, ma'am?
Question: So, this is a little off… maybe an off-topic question, but there is a… a petition out by some environmental activists who have declared the part of the ocean where all the trash is gathered, the plastic… the Trash Isles and they have apparently… they say they have sent a petition to the United Nations for being accepted as a country to the United Nations, which, obviously, I know all the rules of this body, but it's obviously a way to get attention to this topic. So, I was wondering if you have any reaction. Has the petition been received, and what's your take on it?
Spokesman: I'm not aware the petition's been received, but I think it's a very innovative and creative way to bring attention to a problem that is often not seen, given the location of these piles of trash, but a problem of polluting the oceans, killing the life in the oceans is a very important one. So, I… as I said, I think it's creative and innovative. But the chances of it being accepted are fairly nil. I think we'll go to Mr. Lee, Nizar. I'm looking at you, but I'm thinking of Mr. Lee. Go ahead. And it looks like it's a Periscope question.
Correspondent: It is, actually.
Spokesman: So it's a bonus question.
Correspondent: We'll just rev it up.
Spokesman: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Question: Actually, this has to do with the… with the… with the… the deaths of Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalán. I wanted to ask you, I heard today, actually, again, in the Human Rights Council, Kate Gilmore was saying that… offering her condolences for Mr. Sharp, Ms. Catalan, and Betu Tshintela, the interpreter. And, as you may know, there's now some controversy about whether he, in fact, was killed, what his role in it was. I know it's come up in here before, so I wanted to ask you, it seems like enough time has gone by. Is it the UN's understanding that Betu Tshintela was, in fact, killed in this attack? And, if so, given that even the Government of DRC said the body's never been found, what's the basis of the UN saying that he was killed?
Spokesman: I really have nothing more to add to the investigation than what was shared with you in the executive summary of the Board of Inquiry. We're, obviously, saddened by the loss of life of our colleagues and others that may have died as well in the attack.
Question: And given the pretty… the now pretty detailed criticism of the… the… the Board of Inquiry, that they were only there nine days, that they ignored a lot of the video and other evidence… and audio evidence that exists, I guess, what's the… what's the response to that criticism? And what steps have been taken since the Secretary‑General said that the UN will somehow embed with or work with the DRC's own investigation…?
Spokesman: That process is ongoing. We hope to have something to announce shortly. Nizar and then Jordan.
Question: Yeah, on Yemen, the outbreak of cholera, is it abating, or is it still… is there any update on it?
Spokesman: I'll give you some figures. My sense is that's not abating, but I will try to get you some updated figures for tomorrow or later today.
Question: Also, Mr. Walid Al-Moualem, the Deputy Prime Minister of Syria, called on Syrians to return to Syria, especially that 80 per cent of Syria is now back in the hands of the Syrian Government. And he guarantees their safety. How does the United Nations react to such a call? And does it feel safe for the people to return?
Spokesman: The decision to return is one best left in the hands of the people themselves. Jordan?
Question: Are those people… sorry, follow-up on that. These people need, of course, help to…
Spokesman: Of course, they need help, but people… we are not in the business of forcing people to come home… go home or telling them what to do. People need to make those decisions for themselves.
Question: I have a question on North Korea and the SG. I know the SG has met two days ago with the Foreign Minister of North Korea, as he met with all delegations. Is there any possibility that the SG will be going to North Korea during the year to calm the situation?
Spokesman: We have nothing to announce and we try… I have nothing to announce on that front.
Question: Sure. I've mentioned Kate Gilmore twice, and it's for a reason. I wanted to know whether you can give any update on the UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] process, both the candidacy of Ms. Gilmore and now of Alicia Bárcena? Are you aware… what's the deadline for SG selection…
Spokesman: I'm not aware… the details of the process are one of the many things that I'm not aware of because, as you know, the announcement is made, and then the announcement of a job opening is made. People apply, and once the process is over, we announce who got the job.
Question: And I wanted to ask you, again, this is… I've asked you several times about Jeffrey Sachs, and each time you've said… statements that he's made, you said, well, he's only speaking when he's in his capacity. So, now there's an article in the Guardian, which says, “The world is moving on with or without Trump's crude bravado - Jeffrey Sachs”. And the article is about the Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs], which I understand to be his job for the UN. So I guess I want to… it's been a little unclear to me. You've tried… sometimes you've said… at one point, you said it would be communicated to him that it was inappropriate to give an endorsement…
Spokesman: What I'm saying to you is, if it… if he speaks… if he's identified and speaking in his official capacity, then it is…
Question: Okay. So, can you look at the Guardian? Because he's talking about the SDGs. And, again, many people share that view, but I wanted to know…
Spokesman: I think I've answered the question to my best of my ability, Counsellor. Jordan?
Correspondent: I know, but it just continues to happen and lower-down UN staff get in trouble for doing the same thing.
Question: Thank you. I have a question on Western Sahara. I know you issued a statement on behalf of the Special Envoy on 20 September, that he had some communications here at the UN, and he said he's going to the region soon. Has he gone there or not yet and…
Spokesman: No, he's not gone there. When we have a trip to announce, I'll let you know. Thank you.