The following is a near‑verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
The Secretary‑General said earlier today that he was horrified at news reports and video footage showing African migrants in Libya reportedly being sold as slaves. He abhors these appalling acts and calls upon all competent authorities to investigate these activities without delay and bring the perpetrators to justice. He has asked the relevant United Nations actors to actively pursue this matter. Slavery has no place in our world and these actions are among the most egregious abuses of human rights and may amount to crimes against humanity. The Secretary‑General urges every nation to adopt and apply the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its protocol on trafficking in persons and the international community to unite in fighting this scourge. This also reminds us of the need to address migration flows in a comprehensive and humane manner: through development cooperation aiming at addressing its root causes, through a meaningful increase of all the opportunities for legal migration and through an enhanced international cooperation in cracking down on smugglers and traffickers, and protecting the rights of their victims.
And still on Libya, our colleagues from the World Health Organization (WHO) said today they have received reports from the Sabha medical centre on the recent kidnapping of one of its doctors. The agency strongly condemns any attack on medical personnel and health facilities and calls upon parties responsible for the kidnapping of the doctor to ensure his safety and immediate release.
Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, told the Security Council today that the handover of Gaza crossing points, if translated into the full civilian and security control by the Palestinian Authority of Gaza, could be a step towards the normalization of movement in and out of the Strip. He encouraged all sides to use tomorrow’s Cairo meeting to reinforce their commitment to a gradual process of implementing the Cairo agreement, and to ensure that positive momentum is sustained through upholding commitments and ensuring follow‑up. He said that many previous attempts to bridge the Palestinian divide have failed. We cannot allow this current effort to become another missed opportunity. Regrettably, the Special Coordinator said, there is also some not‑so‑good news. Despite progress in implementing the Cairo agreement, Gaza residents have not seen any improvements to their daily lives. Mr. Mladenov’s comments are available online.
The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Burundi, Michel Kafando, also briefed the Security Council this morning. He informed the Council of his recent visits to Bujumbura, his meetings with representatives of the opposition and civil society, as well as with other African leaders and partners of Burundi. He stressed that the United Nations has the obligation to continue to support the efforts of the subregion to help Burundi out of the current crisis. The political process remains the only way forward to resolve this crisis, he said. His briefing is available in our office.
On Yemen, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the blockade by the Saudi‑led Coalition — now in its fifteenth day — is continuing to exacerbate the country’s humanitarian crisis with food, fuel and medical stocks dwindling and the prices for food and fuel rising. The interruption in the importing of key items are pushing at least 7 million people — that is at least one third of the country’s population — closer towards famine. Fuel is becoming scarcer by the day and is disrupting the transport of goods, including food and water, as well as the use of generators needed to pump water and to support the power supply of hospitals and sanitation plants.
Milling is also being affected, with remaining wheat grain stocks unable to be milled, resulting in a further increase of food prices. The existing cereal stocks are expected to run out in three months. In addition, our humanitarian colleagues are very concerned about the inability of humanitarian workers to reach Sana’a — the gateway to Yemen’s largest populations of people in need — and for those remaining in‑country unable to even leave, including for emergency medical evacuation. They once again emphasize that, to avoid this humanitarian catastrophe, the Hodaidah and Saleef ports and the Sana’a airport need to open immediately.
On Iraq, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that the Government and aid agencies have helped most of the people affected by the earthquake earlier this month. The nearly 300 families displaced by the earthquake have received tents, and work is underway to fix water infrastructure which has affected water shortages. Regarding Sinjar, OCHA says that the district remains difficult for aid agencies to access due to checkpoints and roadblocks in the area. This has resulted in it taking longer to deliver relief supplies. Humanitarian partners continue to remind all parties of their responsibility to allow unimpeded humanitarian access to all populations in need.
An update on the situation in Bangladesh from our humanitarian colleagues — the number of Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh since 25 August has now reached 621,000. They are arriving traumatized and destitute, with more than half living in a single camp in Cox’s Bazar. As of this morning, the Rohingya Refugee Crisis Response Plan has received nearly $140 million, or 32 per cent of requirements. Donors had pledged a total of $360 million for the response last month, and we urge them to disburse this money as quickly as possible.
The Peacebuilding Commission met today to discuss Sri Lanka, focusing on comprehensive efforts made by the country to achieve sustainable peace and prosperity and looking at socioeconomic development, reconciliation and transitional justice initiatives undertaken by the Government to date. The Commission discussed the challenges and risks it has encountered in advancing this agenda and how the UN system can continue to support the Government in the future. It also focused on the importance of constitutional reform to achieve a political settlement and ensure non‑recurrence of violent conflict, noting the recent debate in the Constitutional Assembly to advance this process. The event also underlined the need for an inclusive process, highlighting the positive role women, youth and civil society can play in Sri Lanka’s peacebuilding process.
**Papua New Guinea
Over the weekend, Assistant Secretary‑General for Political Affairs, Miroslav Jenča, wrapped up a three‑day visit to Papua New Guinea. In the capital, Port Moresby, he met with the Minister for Bougainville Affairs, the Acting Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and other Government officials, as well as with diplomats and UN staff. In Bougainville, Mr. Jenča met with officials, including the President of the Autonomous Bougainville Government and the Speaker of the Bougainville House of Representatives. He welcomed the progress made in implementation of the Bougainville Peace Agreement, assuring all parties that the United Nations remains committed to supporting the process through to a peaceful conclusion and will continue to provide ongoing assistance at the request of the parties.
Our colleagues from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) inform us that the Montreal Protocol is celebrating a milestone as its Kigali Amendment reached the threshold to enter into force over the weekend. The Amendment, which seeks to phase down climate‑warming hydrofluorocarbons, was ratified by more than 20 parties and is now set to enter into force on 1 January 2019. Countries will now be required to gradually phase down hydrofluorocarbons by more than 80 per cent over the next 30 years and replace them with more environmentally‑friendly alternatives. More information can be found on UNEP’s website.
**Africa Industrialization Day
Today is Africa Industrialization Day. This year’s theme is “African Industrial Development: A Pre‑Condition for an Effective and Sustainable Continental Free Trade Area”. In his message for the Day, the Secretary‑General highlighted the importance of investments in cross‑border infrastructure, green technologies and low‑carbon solutions to increase commerce and industrialization in Africa. He also stressed the need for governments, business and civil society to forge partnerships to spur innovation and create incentives to power sustainable growth, and reaffirmed the UN’s support for Africa to implement a continental free trade agreement.
Today, we thank our friends in Costa Rica for paying their budget dues in full, becoming the 143rd Member State on our Honour Roll.
Last. Today is World Children’s Day and as part of the activities to mark the Day, children from around the world are taking over key roles in media, politics, business, sport and entertainment in more than 130 countries. And we are also participating in the children’s takeover, so I’d like to introduce you to Lathitha Beyile. She is a 14-year-old from Johannesburg, South Africa, and an advocate for issues that children face around the world, including child labour, poverty, lack of education and gender inequality. I’m going to ask her to come to the podium to talk about World Children’s Day.
Lathitha Beyile: As Mr. Farhan has already mentioned: today is World Children’s Day — a fun day with a serious message, and that message is this: Despite global progress, 1 in 12 children around the world live in countries where their prospects today are worse than those of their parents. One hundred and eighty million children live in 37 countries where they are more likely to live in extreme poverty, be out of school, or be killed by violent death than children living in those countries [were] 20 years ago. A UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] survey released today of children between 9 and 18 years old in 14 countries shows that children are deeply concerned about global issues affecting us today. These issues include violence, terrorism, conflict, climate change, unfair treatment of refugees and migrants, and poverty.
The message on World Children’s Day is clear: the world is failing to fully deliver on behalf of the world’s children, and we are speaking up on behalf of ourselves and of our fellow peers to make the case for why we should do more. As Farhan said, there have been global commemorations taking place across the world. Here in New York, the Secretary-General spoke at the “Kids Take Over the United Nations Headquarters” event and he told us that the UN is working every day, every hour, and every minute for the best interests of the children. He said that in a world that can so often seem hopeless, children are important to bring hope, in this hopeless world. Thank you. [Ms. Beyile then answered two questions from the press.]
Deputy Spokesman: And now we get to the boring part with me again.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Staying with the topic of children, in Yemen, 125 children die every day because of cholera and other attacks. Why don't we hear anything from the Rapporteur on the prevention of genocide? What's happening in Yemen could bring about a big genocide. Seven million people, you mentioned, are the brink of starvation, and that's a very large number, unlike any other number in the world, yet, even yesterday in the Cairo meeting, they did not even mention Yemen by one word with all this dire situation. Why doesn't the Secretary‑General take the initiative and call for… to stop this genocide that's happening in Yemen?
Deputy Spokesman: The Secretary‑General has called for an end to the suffering. He wants the blockade to be lifted. We have been calling on over and over again for access to Hodaidah, to Al Saleef, as well as to Sana'a airport, and we're going to continue to push for this. We want to make sure that the people of Yemen can be fed. We have, including especially through our allies in the World Food Programme (WFP), the capacity to feed the people of Yemen. We have, through the World Health Organization, the ability to deal with the cholera crisis, but we need to get food and medicine in. Yes?
Question: But those were… sorry… sorry. Let me fi… follow…?
Deputy Spokesman: Hold on.
Question: On the same subject, please.
Deputy Spokesman: One more and then we move.
Question: But do you believe that the prevention or the continued blockade on Yemen as it is risks of a genocide happening to these people?
Deputy Spokesman: We have warned of the many risks of this. Any kind of hunger, any kind of starvation, is to be condemned because it's preventable. We made very clear that this is a man‑made problem, and we want access to be able to forestall any suffering, any starvation, any deaths from cholera, any of the problems that we're now facing. Yes?
Question: Farhan, I have two questions. The first one is about your statement about Iraq and especially Sinjar. Who's… you know how complicated a situation there on the ground is around Sinjar. Who's preventing the UN aid organisation to deliver the aid to the… to access Sinjar? Do you have any information?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the basic point is, anyone who is setting up… any of the armed groups who are setting up checkpoints and roadblocks, that is what's causing the problem in terms of our access. And we want to be able to deliver relief supplies, and we've been trying to do that to Sinjar, but we face delays, thanks to the obstructions that are put in place.
Question: And my second question is about Arab League statement. Yesterday, they… Arab League's Foreign Ministers, they issued a statement condemning Iran on Hezbollah. Do you have any comments about that or Secretary‑General?
Deputy Spokesman: No, we're aware of the problems. Of course, we're hoping that all the nations of the region will work out their various problems with each other through discussions with each other and through diplomatic solutions. Yes. Yes, Carole?
Question: Farhan, just to follow up on the Secretary‑General's statement on Libya, where he mentioned that he had asked UN players to look into this, can you be more specific about what he's looking for? And, in terms of relevant… I think he said competent authorities should be investigating. Did he mean Libya or the ICC [International Criminal Court], or can you elaborate? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding competent authorities, you're absolutely right that, on the one hand, the Libyan authorities have… as the authorities on the ground, can look into it, but there are other bodies, including the International Criminal Court, which have been seized of the question of Libya.
Question: And his team?
Deputy Spokesman: Regarding your first question about the UN players, the Secretary‑General today has reached out to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, as well as to his envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, trying to get them more involved. As you know, Louise Arbour has been dealing with the issues of migration, and we also see a role to play for some other bodies, including the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in terms of dealing with human trafficking, which is one of the roots of the problem, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). So… and, by the way, the Secretary‑General will also be discussing the question of human trafficking as it pertains to Libya and elsewhere in the Security Council tomorrow, so he'll have more to say about this then. Yes, you?
Question: Hi. Adam Klasfeld from Courthouse News. Literally minutes before this press briefing began, the ICC prosecutor requested judicial authorisation to open an investigation into possible US CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] and Afghan war crimes in Afghanistan. That's obviously going to call… call a lot of attention to the upcoming ICC conference next month. My two questions are, do you have any reaction to today's development? And can you give a preview of what next month's conference involving the International Criminal Court will involve?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, those are principally questions for the International Criminal Court. We don't speak for them since they operate independently of the United Nations. But, of course, we encourage all Member States to cooperate with the International Criminal Court in its work.
Question: The… the other part of the question, though, you might be able to speak on, the… what I asked about scheduling with the conference next month.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I think that's really an issue, like I said, for the ICC, so deal with them on that. Joe?
Question: I'd like to know the Secretary‑General's comment, if any, on the current stalemate concerning the extension of JIM's [Joint Investigative Mechanism] mandate, number one, and at least one proposal by Japan, as I understand it, had called for a temporary extension during which the Secretary‑General would presumably work with the Organisation of Chemical Weapons programme to develop recommendations for JIM going forward. So, does the Secretary‑General have any ideas to move this ball forward and try to achieve a consensus on JIM?
Deputy Spokesman: As I'm sure you're aware, on midnight, Friday night into Saturday morning, the mandate expired without being renewed. So, that has happened. The Secretary‑General's disappointed with that development. As you're aware, we had wanted to see whether the Security Council could come to some agreement on allowing the Joint Investigative Mechanism to go about its work. That hasn't happened, and that did not happen in time.
Question: But he's being asked, at least in some quarters, to be more proactive and make some specific recommendations, you know, on… on… on changing or reforming the mechanism, the investigatory mechanism, in order to maybe get Russia on board and so forth. So, it's just not sitting on the side lines; it's him being somewhat more proactive. Is he taking part in such discussions? Does he have any ideas that he would be willing to advance?
Deputy Spokesman: The question of a mandate for the Joint Investigative Mechanism is a question for Member States of the Security Council. And…
Question: But they're asking him to be… to make recommendations in this regard? So I'm trying to elicit from you what those might be.
Deputy Spokesman: This is not something on which the Member States have agreed. If they can agree on something, we would be perfectly willing to carry it out, but they need to agree.
Question: Same topic?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, you and then… and then you.
Question: Sure. I wanted to know… so, I'd heard that the word "liquidation" was being used. What is… what is the status of Mr. [Edmond] Mulet and the other staff members of the JIM? If you say that it actually expired on Friday, are they… where are they… what's their current jobs in the UN? What is the budget cycle? For example, there was a budget for it approved by the ACABQ (Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions) and then by the Fifth Committee. Where does that money go? Just if you can explain what liquidation means if there is, in fact…
Deputy Spokesman: The same as when a peacekeeping mission ends, what happens when a mandate has ended is that you go into a draw‑down. So, they are not doing any more active work. The work of the remaining members of the Joint Investigative Mechanism is to close up, administratively close up their functions. The three panel members themselves, their term has ended, and they will go back to their other work.
Question: But it seems like with the peacekeeping mission, you have equipment. You have… I know the one in Eritrea took a while to move it out. With this mission, how extensive is… is it… when you saw draw‑down, what does it mean? Is it moving from one office to another? What's actually taking place?
Deputy Spokesman: It's the movement of staff, the movement of resources, the allocation of records they've kept and so forth. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. As you know, the day after tomorrow will be the final verdict in the case against General Ratko Mladic, who is widely assumed to be behind the Srebrenica genocide. I know you are not commenting on the verdicts and the work of the tribunal, but I wonder, since the Secretary‑General, the previous one and this one, current one, used that as the moral… his moral authority to comment on that, whether he would like to say something or also, on the end the work of the… of the work of the International Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, which is expiring next month.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I think as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia wraps up, we do want to draw attention to the significance of the work it's done. It was one of the most horrific moments of mass atrocity to have happened in Europe since the Second World War and the Holocaust itself. And there was a need to make sure that justice could be done, and the tribunal has been a very important part of that process. And, of course, I wouldn't go in… ahead of what the verdict is beyond saying, of course, we have supported the work of the tribunal as it goes about its work. Yes?
Question: Thanks, Farhan. Two questions. Yemen: Has the SG spoken with anyone… any senior Saudi officials since he spoke to the Foreign Minister last week, I believe?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't have any fresh calls on this to relate, no.
Question: Okay. Grateful if you could let us know, because, obviously, it's… we're hearing all these dire warnings from the UN and wondering if the… if it's being directly communicated to the… the Saudi officials.
Deputy Spokesman: Oh, yeah. And we have been, at various levels, including of course through the Secretary‑General's own discussions, such as with Mr. [Adel] al‑Jubeir.
Question: And just one other topic. There's some reports out of Germany about that the UN email system was hacked six months ago. Do you have any information on that?
Deputy Spokesman: We're checking about that. We deal with hacking attempts from time to time. I don't know whether there was any particular success at this, but I'm trying to get some details. Yes?
Question: Yeah. Revisiting the issue of selling slaves or selling… selling migrants in Libya, there was an incident in Israel, at least one… one occasion, where girls from Eastern Europe were sold in a supermarket publicly. And they said that this case… we are bringing it to the open because this is what happened in sellers in dark areas in Tel Aviv, so why don't we bring it to a supermarket? Does the Secretary‑General have the same position to investigate such things? Especially that this was broadcast on an Israeli television channel publicly. Girls were sold in a supermarket to… who would be using them as sex slaves. Does he add his call for an investigation into selling girls in Israel?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, wherever there are credible allegations of such trafficking, they need to be investigated by the authorities. We need to see whether that could be verified. Yes, and then you.
Question: Farhan, just a follow‑up on Michelle's question on Yemen. So, my question is, was there a response to the Secretary‑General's letter from Friday? And is it… yeah.
Deputy Spokesman: In terms of an improvement on the ground, there has not been the sort of response that we need. Obviously, what… the letter was intended to prompt a change on the ground that would allow for better access. And, as of today, we cannot report that we have what we need.
Question: Right, but I mean, in terms of responding to that letter, it was… it was… so far, no response.
Deputy Spokesman: No, no. Yes? Microphone, please.
Question: On Libya, when did the UN heard about the slave auction? Was it true the CNN report or from its official office in Libya?
Deputy Spokesman: No. As you're aware, the initial reporting from this came from the International Organization for Migration, the IOM. And, in fact, we've been reading some of the notes from the IOM at this briefing in previous weeks, prior to the CNN report. But this is part and parcel of the same concerns that have been raised by the IOM. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, in Der Spiegel, one of the things they report… and I want to ask you about the factual portion of it, although it may have to do with a leaked email that's just an open and shut… open yes‑or‑no question, whether the… the Permanent Representative of Germany… basically, it's reported that he wrote to the Chief of Staff of António Guterres and sought a P5 job for his wife since he was coming to New York. And there seems to be an Ina Heusgen working in DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] as the focal point for security. So, how would you respond… one, is that true? And, number two, how would you respond to the allegation that large Member States can write to the Chief of Staff and get a job for spouses because it's convenient when they move to New York?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, first of all, no, all jobs have to go through a process. Member States may make requests, and I'm sure you're not surprised that different Member States try to make requests over time. But every hiring process has to go through the system and has to go through the appropriate channels.
Question: Is there a way to…? Okay.
Deputy Spokesman: And, of course, regarding the earlier part, we wouldn't confirm any leaked email.
Question: Is there… is there a way to know what other Member States have made such requests at that level and got… and had them… had them granted? Because it obviously raises some questions.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, my point to you is it doesn't get granted. The point is everyone has to go through the normal application procedure and has to go through the normal hiring process.
Question: So, what's the process in this case…?
Question: Follow‑up? Follow‑up on that? On Matthew's question, are you saying that no Member State actually did not intervene and they did not shorten the process beside all these process that has gone on in the past… recent past, rather, and now that it's not going on?
Deputy Spokesman: No, I… what I'm saying is, regardless of efforts by Member States to uphold their own various interests, what we try to do is go through a process for each position, you know, regardless of what those interests are. And I'm sure you're aware at… of many, many different senior positions that… for which many Member States try to intervene. Yes?
Question: Yes. Yesterday, the Syrian army managed to liberate the last city under the control of ISIS, Al‑Bukamal. How does the Secretary‑General view such an achievement? And, also, what is the United Nations doing to help the people in Al‑Bukamal after their liberation?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, yeah, we would certainly… we certainly want to be able to provide humanitarian aid to all areas that are opened up for such aid. Regarding the importance of this development, what Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, is trying to do is make sure that this can now be used as the time for all parties to come together and come to a negotiated solution, and that is what he is going to try to do with the resumption of Syrian talks in Geneva on 28 November.
Question: Follow‑up on that? How does the Secretary‑General view that pathways were open for ISIS fighters to flee Al‑Bukamal through American‑ and Kurdish‑controlled areas north of Al‑Bukamal? Hundreds of them were… managed to flee. Also, helicopters were seen landing and picking up their leaders taking them away. How… how does the Secretary‑General believe that these fighters should be treated and those who are helping them? What are they supposed to face?
Deputy Spokesman: We're aware of these reports in the media, but we have no way of verifying them first hand. Yes?
Question: I can say here the Russians have provided video footage of that happening.
Deputy Spokesman: Like I said, we… we have no first‑hand way of verifying. Yes?
Question: Okay. I'd like to just ask, on this focal point for security job, given what you've said and given what the email seems to say, if there's some way to find out how the job was given out. It's just a request. But the other… but I wanted to ask you, the President of the United States has just named… has today said that he's putting North Korea back on the state sponsor of terrorism list. I wanted to know, generally, if there's any response but, two, whether it would change… previously, in this room, we've asked about, for example, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) helping on cyanide patents. Is there any change in terms of the UN… how it would deal with Member State DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] given this… this new announcement?
Deputy Spokesman: There's nothing to say on that right now. This is not our list but a US list. And with that… okay. One more, and then we go to Brenden [Varma].
Question: Okay. It has to do with this rosewood situation, and I'm… the reason I'm asking is this. There's an upcoming meeting of the CITES [Convention on Illegal Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna] convention in Geneva and their own document… so it's basically a… you can characterise it as you want, but it's their document leading to the conference says that… that the certificates were signed after the wood was already in China, which I believe is something at least… as much as I can make out from the statement of the Secretary‑General and what the Deputy Secretary‑General has said in her two interviews on it doesn't seem to be… she's not acknowledging that the wood was in… was already illegally exported to China at the time she signed 4,000 certificates. So now that there's 82,000 signatures requesting an investigation by the Secretary‑General, is it possible to know… because this is CITES now. This is not Environmental Investigation Agency. It's not a newspaper. It's a formal body that has press conferences in this room saying that the law was broken on the 4,000 signatures. So, I guess I just want to know, when is she going to come and… I know she's back in the building. Is it possible to have a press conference on this topic?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, if they have any concerns to raise with us on this, then they can take that up. If they have concerns to raise with the Government of Nigeria, then they take that with them, and, as Stéphane [Dujarric] had made clear, it's for the Government of Nigeria to respond. Brenden, come on up.