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

17 October 2017

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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.

In a short while, I will be joined by Richard Kollodge, the Editor of the UNFPA’s [United Nations Population Fund] State of World Population 2017.  He will brief you on the launch of the report entitled “Worlds Apart: Reproductive health and rights in an age of inequality”.

And before we get to Richard, after we are done with my questions, we will have Brenden [Varma] brief you on behalf of the President of the General Assembly.

**Myanmar

The Under‑Secretary‑General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, just concluded a five‑day visit to Myanmar today.  In Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw, he met with State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Armed Forces [Tatmadaw] Commander‑in‑Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, among other officials, as well as with representatives of Myanmar's civil society.

Most of Mr. Feltman’s discussions focused on the situation in Rakhine State and the plight of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled to Bangladesh in the aftermath of the 25 August attacks on security positions and subsequent military action.  Mr. Feltman reiterated the Secretary‑General’s call that aid workers be given full and unhindered access to northern Rakhine State and that refugees be allowed voluntary, safe and dignified return to their place of origin.

Acknowledging the announcements by the Government of Myanmar on addressing humanitarian concerns in Rakhine State and the return of refugees from Bangladesh, Mr. Feltman encouraged the authorities to utilize the capacities, best practices, and extensive experience of the United Nations to help assure that stated intentions could be implemented in a timely and effective manner.

In northern Rakhine State, Mr. Feltman saw dozens of burned and destroyed villages by air and visited several communities affected by the recent violence.  He also visited internally displaced persons’ camps outside Sittwe that were set up in 2012.  He saw how, in addition to the documented endemic discrimination against the Rohingya population, socioeconomic challenges adversely affect all communities in Rakhine State.

In talks with leaders of the Armed Forces, Mr. Feltman noted that, in the UN's experience, successful counter‑terrorism efforts do not rely exclusively on security measures, stressing the importance of accountability and non‑discriminatory rule of law and public safety as part of the comprehensive approach needed to address the fears and distrust among the communities in Rakhine State.

The UN is committed to supporting Myanmar and Bangladesh in their efforts to find a sustainable solution to the plight of refugees and people affected by recent violence and mass displacement.

You can read more about Mr. Feltman’s visit in a note to correspondents we’ll be putting out very shortly.

**Bangladesh

Over the border in Bangladesh, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the number of Rohingya refugees who have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh since 25 August has now reached 582,000.  That jump from yesterday — I think we had given you a number of 537,000 — the jump is due to strengthened assessments of people coming across the border.

Meanwhile, the UN Refugee Agency [UNHCR] says today that it is concerned about the thousands of newly arrived Rohingya refugees stranded in Bangladesh near its border with Myanmar.

Since Sunday evening, up to 15,000 refugees have entered Bangladesh.  Many of them say they had initially chosen to stay in their homes in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State despite repeated threats to leave or be killed, and finally fled when their villages were set on fire.  Many of the refugees are still waiting for permission to move away from the border.  The Agency is advocating with Bangladesh authorities to urgently admit these people.

The World Health Organization [WHO] says that, in the first phase of its joint oral cholera vaccine campaign with the Government and UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] in Cox’s Bazar, nearly 680,000 people over the age of 1 have been covered.  The second phase of the campaign, the second largest of its kind, will begin on 31 October.

For its part, UNICEF today warned that, without immediate additional funding, it will not be able to continue providing life‑saving aid and protection to Rohingya children.  Nearly 60 per cent of the refugees who have fled Myanmar since August 25 are children.

The growing needs are fast outpacing resources, as we were telling you, with the Agency having received just 7 per cent of the $76 million it needs to, among other activities, treat water and truck water to 40,000 people, procure 15,000 children suffering from acute severe malnutrition, and help unaccompanied and separated children.

Meanwhile, the Director of the UN Migration Agency [IOM] is in Bangladesh, Bill Swing, where he visited camps and met with officials.  The Government, IOM and other agencies are working to set up a new 3,000‑acre camp.

**Syria

Turning to Syria, we are aware of reports that the Syrian Democratic Forces have taken full control of Raqqa city, with the last remaining civilians evacuated over the past few days.  The UN is however not able to verify first hand the situation in the city due to lack of access, but we have received reports that much of the city has been damaged or destroyed due to the fighting.  We are closely monitoring the situation and stand ready to deliver life‑saving assistance to those in need as soon as access is granted and security conditions permit.

The overall humanitarian and protection situation for civilians, including those who were displaced, remains of high concern in Raqqa Governorate and, more broadly, across north‑eastern Syria.

Already, the UN and its partners have reached 330,000 men, women and children in need across the area each month, including 56,000 people in 48 temporary shelters and camps in Raqqa, Al‑Hasakah, Aleppo and Deir Ez‑Zor Governorates.

**Iraq

Over to the east, in Iraq, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that there has been no major displacement of civilians since yesterday’s advances by the Iraqi military in Kirkuk.

Some people are returning to Kirkuk, but we cannot [verify] exact numbers.

In the past 48 hours, the UN Migration Agency says that some 61,000 people have left Kirkuk city and surrounding areas, most of them heading north and east towards Erbil and Sulaymaniyah Governorates.

Aid workers are providing assistance where needed and can reach all of those in need.  They call on all parties to ensure that civilians are protected and can leave affected areas if they choose.

We are working for you possibly having Lise Grande [Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq] tomorrow piped in here so you can ask her first hand about the humanitarian situation in Iraq.

**Somalia

In Somalia, our World Health Organization colleagues have been delivering life‑saving blood supplies and trauma care medicines as part of the emergency response to the bombings in Mogadishu.  The supplies include blood group testing kits, drug supplies, first aid medicines and medical supplies to hospitals.

WHO is also supporting the Ministry of Health and Human Services with emergency health kits to respond to common illness needs of 10,000 people for a duration of three months.  Additional supplies are being pre‑positioned for deployment as needed.  I know our colleagues at the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia are also participating in a blood drive.

**Libya

Turning to Libya, our colleagues at IOM say that in the aftermath of weeks of conflict in Sabratha, they are providing support to more than 14,000 migrants, previously held in numerous informal detention centres and camps.  Since the outbreak of the crisis, 6,700 migrants have received relief packages, which include mattresses, blankets, pillows and hygiene kits at six separate locations, and more than 100,000 meals have been provided in Zuwara and Sabratha.  The UN Migration Agency has also responded to the vast health needs and conducted more than 1,600 medical interventions.  The Agency is concerned about the large number of migrants transferred to detention and is strongly advocating for alternatives.

For its part, UNHCR has delivered more than 15 truckloads of relief items, including sleeping mats, mattresses, blankets, hygiene kits and winter jackets.  UNHCR colleagues on the front lines describe a picture of human suffering and abuse on a shocking scale.  Amongst the refugees and migrants who suffered abuse at the hands of smugglers, there are pregnant women and newborn babies.  Scores of them are in need of urgent medical care, with some suffering from bullet wounds and other visible signs of abuse.  Most of them say that they were subjected to numerous human rights abuses, including sexual and gender‑based violence, forced labour and sexual exploitation.

**South Sudan

Back here, the Under‑Secretary‑General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, briefed the Security Council on South Sudan this morning.  He said that the security and human rights situation in the country remains extremely concerning.  Within the tense environment, the Government’s security institutions and opposition forces continue to restrict the UN Mission’s [UNMISS] freedom of movement.  He added that despite a highly effective humanitarian operation, without a reduction in conflict and improved access, humanitarian indicators are likely to continue to deteriorate.

With regard to the political process, Mr. Lacroix said that the conflict is a direct outcome of a prolonged disproportionate access to power and wealth.  He said that all future dispensations must therefore rest on the principle of inclusivity that leads to equitable power and wealth sharing.

**Malta

The Head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO], Irina Bokova, today condemned the killing yesterday of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta.  She welcomed the pledge by the Prime Minister of Malta to bring to justice this crime committed not just against a person but against the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of information, which are essential to democracies everywhere.

**Environment

Our friends at the UN Environment Programme [UNEP] today announced a billion‑dollar partnership with Rabobank, a Dutch bank based in Utrecht, to support climate‑smart agriculture.  The partnership consists of the creation of a new facility to provide grants and credit to clients involved in sustainable agricultural production, processing or the trade of commodities who adhere to strict provisions for forest protection, restoration and the involvement of small landholders.  More information on UNEP’s website.

**Haiti

Yesterday, you will have seen that we issued a statement from the Secretary‑General welcoming the establishment of the UN Mission for Justice Support in Haiti [MINUJUSTH], following the end of its predecessor Mission, MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti].

**Nagorno-Karabakh

Also yesterday, we issued a statement from the Secretary‑General in which he welcomed the summit held yesterday in Geneva between the President of the Republic of Armenia and the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, organized under the auspices of the Co‑Chairs of the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] Minsk Group.

He is encouraged by the Presidents’ agreement to take measures to intensify the negotiation process and to take additional steps to reduce tensions on the Line of Contact.  That statement is online.

**Poverty

Today is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.  This year’s theme is “Answering the Call of October 17 to end poverty: A path toward peaceful and inclusive societies”.

In a video message to mark the Day, the Secretary‑General called on countries to redouble efforts to eradicate poverty in its entirety by working to achieve the 2030 [Sustainable] Development Agenda.

In particular, he called for addressing the root causes of poverty, and in doing so to listen to the views and guidance of people living in poverty and acting together with them.

**Press Briefings

Tomorrow, a number of press encounters: at 9:45 a.m., Ambassador Danny Danon of Israel will speak to you at the Security Council stakeout.

At 12:15 p.m., there will be a press briefing here by senior officials on Africa Week 2017.  This year’s theme is “Supporting an Integrated, Prosperous, People‑centred, Peaceful Africa: Towards the Implementation of Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.

And at 1 p.m., we expect the Secretary‑General of the United Nations to speak to you also at the Security Council stakeout on travel.

If that stakeout is confirmed, we will not have a noon briefing tomorrow.  Since the boss speaks, the spokesman doesn’t need to speak.

**Questions and Answers

Spokesman:  Sir?

Question:  Thank you.  On Mr. Feltman visit, I… you said they going to be presser statement or note to correspondents.

Spokesman:  Yeah, I read to you the bulk and the meat of the note to correspondents.

Question:  Yeah. Is he going to write a report somehow to… to his boss and then it's going to be shared with…

Spokesman:  Well, he's… obviously, is in touch with the Secretary‑General.  We will see if there's any request for any briefing to the Security Council, which I'm not aware that there is at this point.

Question:  And second, you mentioned every day, by the way, there is number of refugees who have fled Rakhine State to Bangladesh.  Is there any numbers about victims, how many victims so far died?  Because you said many… normally, we… we hear the news like many villages, many people being killed.  What is the… you know, the official or the report figure, how many people have been killed in Rakhine State since the crisis started?

Spokesman:  We do not have those numbers, for the reason that we do not have access… free and unfettered access for our humanitarian colleagues in Rakhine State.  Mr. Feltman went on a tour today organized by the Government of Myanmar.  He reported what he saw, which is basically seen from the air burnt out villages, and he made other observations.  But we have no way of giving you any confirmed numbers.  Madame, and then I'll come to you.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Venezuelan Government had elections, local elections on Sunday, and the international community has had different reactions.  The American Government has said that… and actually, Ambassador [Nikki] Haley said that it's a need to have an audit on the elections.  The opposition has claimed that it's been manipulation of the results.  The Venezuelan Government says they were clear and transparent.  What is the United Nations' reaction to all this controversy now?

Spokesman:  Well, we have no specific comment on the elections as we were not an observer, an organize… part of organizing, so we have no way to emit any sort of opinion on the technicalities of how the elections were held.  The Secretary‑General's position on the need for dialogue and his support for the international mediation stands.  Matthew and then Madame.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about Myanmar, and I'm sorry, I missed the first part of…

Spokesman:  That's okay.

Question:  …what you were saying, but I'm reading the note to correspondents.  Did you address this idea of the replacement, either Resident Coordinator or an Assistant Secretary‑General?  And, on that, I wanted to ask whether you would confirm or deny that the UN proposed Mr. Magdy Martínez‑Soliman of UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] as Assistant Secretary‑General, Myanmar and, if so, what the Government's response was.

Spokesman:  No.  As you know, we will… we announce replacements when they're official, whether it's senior appointments, RCs [Resident Coordinators], whatever.  There are always rumours and things flying around, so I'm not going to start commenting on names that may or may not have been floated.  As we mentioned, Ms. [Renata] Lok‑Dessallien will be leaving at the end of the month.  When we have a replacement to announce, we shall do so.

Question:  But in… I mean, in this long note to correspondents, is it fair to say that this was one of the topics?  And, if so, what was… where does it stand?  It's a question.

Spokesman:  As I said, we will announce a replacement when we're ready to announce.  As with every Resident Coordinator, not just in Myanmar, in every country there's a Resident Coordinator, there needs to be an agreement, an agreement, with the Government for that person.  So when we're ready to announce, we will do so.

Question:  Can we get a similar… I mean, this note to correspondents is long.  It's going to… it looks great.  Can we get a similar one for, for example, Mr. [Horst] Köhler's visits to Morocco, Tindouf and elsewhere?

Spokesman:  Mr. Köhler is currently in Rabat.  We hope to have more at the conclusion of the visit.  Madame, then… go ahead.

Question:  It seems like Jeffrey Feltman came back pretty empty‑handed.  I mean, there's nothing in that statement that indicates any progress.  Specifically on the issue of humanitarian access, what is the… the reason for blocking it at this point?

Spokesman:  Well, I think that's a valid question to ask the authorities of Myanmar.  I don't think, in announcing the trip, we had expected any quick wins.  This is an ongoing discussion with the Government of Myanmar.  It is one we're having publicly and one we're having privately.  We would like to see that access as soon as possible.  Mr. Klein?  If you want to lead to…

Correspondent:  I'll yield to Evelyn.

Spokesman:  The democracy in this room is just overwhelming.

Question:  My question is, when you read out your statement regarding the situation in Raqqa, I believe you said…

Spokesman:  In Raqqa.  Yeah. 

Question:  In Raqqa, yes.  I believe you said the UN was not in a position to independently verify the current status.  But do you have any information you can share regarding the situation involving civilians in the last number of days and reports that there was a deal worked out to allow some of the Islamist militants to leave Raqqa, mostly Syrian jihadists, in return for some protection of civilians.  Can you comment on that?

Spokesman:  No, we've seen the press reports on these deals.  It's not something that we were involved in, in any way, shape or form.  What we do know is there have been… we'd seen reports in the past weeks of just a heavy casualty toll of civilians during the fight to retake Raqqa.  Evelyn or did… was that the same question?

Question:  Yeah, I was going to ask the same thing.  Anyway, I saw the UNICEF press release on how they're running out of money.  Are… is everyone… are the agencies competing with each other, UNHCR, WHO, UNICEF, to take care of the Bangladesh…

Spokesman:  No, I think every agency has a particular mandate to fulfil.  There is… there will be, I think, if I'm not mistaken, a pledging conference soon.  And then…

Question:  For all of them?

Spokesman:  Yes, the resources are then appropriated.

Question:  Because it doesn't make sense, does it?

Spokesman:  I try not to answer questions about what makes sense or doesn't make sense in this Organization.  [Laughter]  Oleg, make sense.

Question:  Thanks.  On Raqqa again, you said that there is no access to the city.  Have you requested one?  And who are you going to send this request to?  Are you in contact with the [Syrian] Democratic Forces or are you…

Spokesman:  Well, as with every situation in Syria, where who controls what area can be a little complex and manning of checkpoints, we have… our colleagues on the ground have contact with whoever they need to on the ground, the de facto people who control these areas.  And, obviously, we are always trying to get access to places we're not able to get access to.  Yeah, yeah?

Question:  Because there were some reports that the… the… the… Raqqa… the territory of Raqqa is going to be governed by the civilian administration.  That's what it was called by the Democratic Forces.  Were there any attempts to approach…

Spokesman:  As I said, we're in touch with various parties on the ground to get that access.  Luke?

Question:  A little different direction on Raqqa.  I don't… I know it's hard and not really the UN's job to verify the moment that the city falls, but let's say it's today or tomorrow or Saturday.  We're at the end of the caliphate, it seems like, something that's been the source of a lot of global anxiety for years now.  Is there sort of a broad comment the Secretary‑General has on the importance of this moment?

Spokesman:  You know, I don't think we're in a position to say, especially from where I stand, are we at the end of the caliphate?  Are we not at the end of the caliphate?  As you know, the security aspect of the fight against these extremist groups is not done by the United Nations.  We are there on a… on two areas.  One is the humanitarian aspect and, obviously, on the political reconciliation and peace aspect.  So, I think those questions are left to those who handle, I think, more security and military matters.  Jordan, then Matthew.

Question:  Yeah.  I know, since there is no UN Mission in… in Rakhine State, I assume that the plane was carrying Mr. Feltman was… was a military plane by the…

Spokesman:  Well, I don't know if it was… I don't know what kind of helicopter he was, in, but it was a Government‑sponsored trip.  So, I mean, the UN was not piloting the aircraft.

Question:  And do you know who was with him on the plane?  Was…

Spokesman:  Senior Myanmar officials…

Question:  And… is it possible that Mr. Feltman come to speak to the press like this?

Spokesman:  We will put in the request.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No problem.  Yeah, Matthew and then Madame.

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you… I'm going to ask you again about Cameroon.  There are now reports of thousands of refugees having left the anglophone areas into Nigeria.  So, since one of the UN's sort of [indications] of a… of a… the seriousness of a problem is refugee flows, can you… can you either comment on it… can you find that out?

Spokesman:  We will check.

Question:  And, also, what's the rel… there's… many people there are highly suspect of the belated visit to the area of the… of Paul Biya's Prime Minister.  And so I wonder, is there… can you say… like, and people continue to wonder what happened with the idea of a [François Louncény] Fall visit.  Is it in some way tied to this?  Is he waiting to see how that dialogue works or…

Spokesman:  That's a question to ask the Cameroonian authorities.  We're in dialogue with them, and as always, the UN doesn't barge into places unless we have a Chapter VII resolution.  And so we're in discussions with the Government and [would] like to hear a date for them for him to visit.

Question:  But you had said earlier… you'd said that earlier they'd agreed and everything was fine.  That's why people are now wondering.

Spokesman:  Everything is agreed once everything is agreed.  Carole?

Question:  Stéphane, just two questions, if I may.  One, the Secretary‑General’s meeting with the Somalia Minister today.  Do you know if there'll be any press access to that, to the Minister?

Spokesman:  I think we'll probably do a photo op.  I mean, the Secretary‑General requested to meet with him to present personally his condolences following this horrendous attack.  And we've seen… I mean, the press reports we've all seen of the numbers rising, I think, making it possibly one of the worst terrorist attacks in recent years anywhere.  I mean, the numbers are just… the numbers are staggering.  So, I mean, for the Secretary‑General, who you know was in Somalia not too long ago, he really wanted to present his condolences and speak to the Foreign Minister, who's here, I think, for Africa Week.

Question:  Can I also ask about the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]?  The Secretary‑General had said he would like it to remain in place.  Is he doing anything towards that end?  Is he talking to [the United States] Congress?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of him having any specific contacts with members of Congress on this.  But this is a message, again, that we are pushing both publicly and privately.

Question: [inaudible]  To whom?

Spokesman:  To… privately.  Yeah?

Question:  I think the photo op already happened with Somalia.  But I did want to ask you, he also met with the Bangladesh Speaker of the… of the… you know, National Parliament.  Is… are… is that going to be read out?  Does it have to do with the Rohingya crisis?

Spokesman:  I'll see what I can get out of the meeting.

Question:  Tomorrow, if he does a stakeout on travel, will he take questions?  And I want to, I guess, since I have no idea if he will take this one, I wanted to ask you about the Central African Republic.  You've been willing here to confirm this one Mauritania case or what… Farhan [Haq] said it.  He said it was a 16‑year‑old, not a 19‑year‑old.  But it turns out that, I mean, there are other cases, but recent cases, in MINUSCA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic] involving peacekeepers from Morocco, Burundi, Pakistan.  It seems like the problem is not over.  They keep being…

Spokesman:  I don't think anyone, especially the UN, has ever said this problem is over.  The Secretary‑General, if he does the stakeout, will take questions.  And we have very little means of controlling what you will ask.  Mr. Varma, to you, and then we’ll have Richard speak.  Go ahead.

For information media. Not an official record.